Day 16 Rock ‘n’ Roll Miscreants: Give some screen time to the punks and/or metal heads (and Roger Wilson gave us a two-fer: for it’s all about the watch options)
Confessions of a Fan
Ask any male teenager haunting the racks of video stores in the ‘80s who their two favorite actresses were—this writer included—and the answer inevitably comes back: Diane Franklin and Jill Schoelen. No matter how good or bad the movie: you saw either of their names on the box, you rented the flick.
And the subject of this Scarecrow Challenge review, Roger Wilson, hit casting gold by being cast with both of them in Thunder Alley and Second Time Lucky. It’s been many, many years Roger, and we, the now low testosterone, hair-thinned curmudgeons of the VHS and vinyl epoch, continue to worship you in a Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar-tribute. We bow to you before the altar of the stage of The Palace, the faux-Phoenix, Arizona, rock club where you showed the world your rock ‘n’ roll “balbricks.” You are worthy, for you rawketh our analog, teenaged memories.
Roger Wilson: A Life on Record and Film
Born in New Orleans, on October 8, 1956, actor Wilson came to notice at the age of 25 in his first starring role as “Mickey” in the hugely successful Animal House-inspired comedies Porky’s (1981) and Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983).
As with Lane Caudell (with his own rock flick, Hanging on a Star), Kim Milford (with his rock flick, Song of the Succubus), and Rick Springfield (a rock star in the bomb Hard to Hold) before him, Wilson was an aspiring and accomplished rock ‘n’ roller who fronted a band called Num for several years. It was through his acting endeavors that Wilson was able to get two of his written/performed songs, “This Time” and “Radioactive Tears,” on the soundtrack for the obscure and rare New Zealand-shot Second Time Lucky (1984), an “Adam and Eve” rock musical-comedy in which he co-starred with our teenaged dream queen—Diane Franklin. Then writer-director J.S Cardone gave Roger’s musical skills a spotlight in Thunder Alley, which co-starred the soon-to-be girlfriend of Brad Pitt: Jill Schoelen. (Pitt and Schoelen became engaged after meeting on the set of a pre-stardom Pitt flick, the 1989 slasher romp, Cutting Class. The story of how Jill and Brad split before getting married is epic.)
A reformed rock ‘n’ roller who spent several years touring with rock bands in the early ‘70s, Cardone made a huge splash on the burgeoning home video market with his debut film, the 1982 slasher “video nasty” The Slayer—a film so “nasty” that it was banned from distribution in the land that loves-to-ban anything entertaining: the United Kingdom (see it on B&S Movies Exploring: Video Nasties Section 2 List). Cardone then hit his career peak in the early ‘90s through his association with Charles Band’s Full Moon Pictures. For us reformed teen denizens stumbling through our twenties in the pre-dawn years of the grunge era, we rented everything with a Full Moon logo on it—and with J.S Cardone’s name front and center on Shadowzone and Crash and Burn (both 1990), it was a no brainer: there was entertainment to be had.
After Cardone made a bloody splash in the post-Halloween slasher market and proved he could turn out economical, quality product, he was able to secure financing for his second film—a personal pet-project that drew from his early ‘70s band experiences.
So, in the glut of rock ‘n’ roll films permeating the cable transmission waves and video store shelves, with the likes of such rock ‘n’ roll classics as Eddie & the Cruisers (1980), Ladies and Gentleman: The Fabulous Stains (1981) and Streets of Fire (1984) (a “punk rock” Diane Lane two-fer?!), and Scenes from the Goldmine (1987; Catherine Mary Stewart from Night of the Comet!), there was Cardone’s 1985 rock ‘n’ roll love letter: Thunder Alley. And he cast Roger Wilson as; it seems, to be the onscreen pseudo-version of his younger Cardone-rock ‘n’ roll self.
Sadly, there’s no DVD version of Thunder Alley with an audio commentary to learn the backstory of Cardone’s hungry rock ‘n’ roll years. This writer ventures that Cardone made connections during those times and knew Surgical Steel’s Jim Keeler and Jeff Martin, Canadian hitmaker Gary O’Conner, and Shooting Star’s Gary West and Van McLain—and brought them onto the project to craft the music for the film’s faux band fronted by Roger Wilson: Magic.
Phoenix, Arizona’s Surgical Steel—where the film was shot (using some of the same locations as The Wraith and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man)—appear in the film as themselves, as the “biggest band in town” and Magic’s main competition. In real life, they were; but as with their critically acclaimed, hometown brethren, Icon, a Quiet Riot rise-to-stardom wasn’t meant to be for the ‘Steel. The film spotlighted their songs “Surrender” and “Gimme Back My Heart.”
In addition to casting Roger Wilson, Cardone provided ex-bubblegum teen-idol Leif Garrett with his first gritty “adult” roll as the egotistical-insecure “Skip” (we wonder who Cardone’s “model” was). Garrett not only turns in a wonderful performance as an actor—but does a stellar job on lead vocals singing “Do You Feel Alright,” which previously appear on Shooting Star’s third album, III Wishes (July 1982). Other songs expertly done by Garrett (take the overly critical bubblegum out of your ears, Garrett really can sing) are “Just Another Pretty Boy,” written by Gary O’Connor (who provided “Back Where You Belong” to 38 Special), and “Danger, Danger” by Frankie Miller (revered British singer from Jude with Robin Trower).
However, the real star of this show was Roger Wilson. Although Roger is an accomplished guitarist in his own right, and proves those skills with his spot-on playing, he’s actually doubled by Scott Shelly—one of Shelly’s most prominent students was Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne’s Randy Rhoads. There’s no doubt Cardone believed in Roger; to promote Wilson’s career, Cardone released a promotional 7” 45-rpm that was given away in record stores and movie theatres. It seemed Wilson’s dream to make it as a musician was happening.
A Falling Star
Then as quickly as his star rose, it came crashing down in a blaze of thunder, oddly enough, in an alley.
The story starts with Academy Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio when, fresh from his breakout roll in Titanic, partied with friends in the “Wolf Pack,” which is alleged to be a post-stardom euphemism for the group’s original, more nasty (and allegedly a press-generated) moniker of “The Pussy Posse.” The wolf-posse included an HBO-esque Entourage that included magician David Blaine and actors Kevin Connolly (ironically, later a star of Entourage; directed the John Travolta box-office bomb, Gotti), Jay Ferguson (“Stan Rizzo” of Mad Men), actor Lukas Haas, writer/director Harmony Korine, Tobey Maguire of Spider-Man fame, screenwriter Josh Miller (“Tim” in River’s Edge), and Ethan Suplee (TV’s My Name is Earl). Regardless of how the actor-amalgamate referred to themselves: they were notorious for their allegedly misogynistic and rebel rousing behaviors on the “upscale” New York City club scene.
One of those “incidents” that led to the wolf-posse’s ill repute involved actress Elizabeth Berkley, known for her attempt to break away from her squeaky clean teen-idol image cultivated by Saturday morning TV’s Saved by the Bell with a starring role in a “grown up part” in the critically lambasted Showgirls.
According to multiple media reports, Berkley attended the premiere of DiCaprio’s latest film, The Man in the Iron Mask—and visited the film’s VIP area, which was in full party mode courtesy of the Wolf Pack. It’s alleged that through DiCaprio’s L.A publicist, Karen Tenser, Berkley was invited by the actor and Jay Ferguson to party at the club Elaine’s after the premiere. Berkley politely declined, as she was dating Roger Wilson at the time (other media reports say Roger was there at the club by Berkley’s side when the invite was made).
Not taking a “no” for an answer, Berkley alleged that is when the “harassment” started, with an incessant barrage of invites from Tenser and Ferguson for dinners and parties. Wilson, as any chivalrous boyfriend would, intervened on one of those phone calls from actor Jay Ferguson—this time inviting Berkley to party with the pack at New York’s ritzy Asia de Cuba. Ferguson’s incensed response to Wilson’s intrusion was to invite Wilson to the club for a showdown.
Wilson accepted. And the thunder was about the roll in the alley.
Upon arrival at the club, Wilson took Ferguson’s offer to “step outside.” It’s then alleged DiCaprio (who ironically starred in Gangs of New York) interjected, “let’s go kick ass,” and led his wolf-posse into a West Side Story-styled, street-alley rumble. At that point, the recollections are hazy: a member of the posse—allegedly Ferguson—punched Wilson in the throat and damaged his larynx. Of all the body parts to suffer a blow: not his head or face, stomach or back: his throat.
Wilson’s singing career was over.
The unchecked testosterone melee resulted in a Manhattan judge tossing out Wilson’s $45 million lawsuit in 2004 against DiCaprio and “two other men” for the assault. It was determined that DiCaprio not only didn’t throw a punch, he didn’t encourage the fight—and Wilson was cast as the “aggressor.”
After the May 4, 1998, assault, Wilson’s career floundered with a series of little-seen TV movies and haphazardly distributed direct-to-video releases. Another TV series in the wake of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers wasn’t forthcoming. Meanwhile, DiCaprio moved up to the A-List and worked with Martin Scorsese.
Wilson, however, remained in the business behind the scenes. He moved into screenwriting, doing numerous uncredited rewrites (like the highly respected Carrie Fisher of Star Wars) for projects supervised by producer Steve Tisch (who produced Risky Business and Forrest Gump), Penny Marshall, and actress Sharon Stone. After teaching screenwriting at the college level, Roger Wilson forged a career in real estate development, which he still pursues today.
The bottom line, Roger: We love your work then and will love your work now. So clear out the vaults and upload your old material (especially from the hard-to-find Second Time Lucky)—and newer tunes—to a Spotify account for all of us Roger Wilson and Thunder Alley fans to enjoy. For in our analog-beating hearts sustained on digital life support, you are still a rock star. We want to rock with you again. You, my friend, are worthy to rock Thunder Alley.
More Roger Wilson?
A “Music of Roger Wilson and Thunder Alley” YouTube Playlist features the studio and video versions of all the songs from Thunder Alley with Roger Wilson and Leif Garrett, along with music by Gary O (and 38 Special), Frankie Miller (and Nazareth), Surgical Steel and Shooting Star. The playlist also includes the trailers and full films for Second Time Lucky and Thunder Alley.
“Sex, Balbrick, and Rock ’n’ Roll: The Music of Actor Roger Wilson” on Medium goes even deeper into Roger’s career, overflowing with more photos and trivia.
Update, May 18, 2021: We, unfortunately, didn’t delve into the Judas Priest connection sidebar to Thunder Alley, since this film review — and my previous Medium article — was all about showing Roger Wilson the love. But you know the connection now, courtesy of the fine folks at Global Web News for pinging back in our comments section (below) about this incredible article (published May 17) regarding Judas Priests’ Rob Halford’s connection to Phoenix, Arizona’s Surgical Steel — written by Cherry Bomb in the digital pages of Metal Injection.
So there you go! All the Roger Wilson and Surgical Steel ephemera you can handle, and then some.
Update, September 2021: Yes, we confess our love of Thunder Alley once more, with another take as part of our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week III.” And since Cannon was behind it, we brought it back once more as part of our “Cannon Month” of film reviews.