Since 2004 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who’ve been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place.
When I choose subjects for the Secret History of Chicago Music, I always look for compelling tales, but only every once in a while do I find a story that feels cut out for a biopic. The short and tragic but absolutely jam-packed life of Ron Haydock is one such story. He had ties to early rock ‘n’ roll, pulp publishing, and genre films—and like a proper B-movie juvenile delinquent, he once supposedly said, “I’m out for kicks in life, doing whatever I want whenever I want, on the move like there’s no tomorrow, I’m living like there’s only today.”
Haydock was born in Chicago on April 17, 1940, and as a lad in Downers Grove he devoured comic books and monster movies and magazines. He had a musical epiphany when he saw The Girl Can’t Help It, a somewhat cynical 1956 musical comedy that deals with the sordid machinations of the record business—he was enraptured by the rock ‘n’ roll trailblazers who appeared in the film, among them Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, and Gene Vincent.
Vincent’s impact on the rock ‘n’ roll of the day (and on Haydock) can’t be overstated. No other rocker projected such swagger and menace or inspired more fledgling toughs to grease their hair, don leather jackets, and strap on guitars—and his immortal rockabilly smash “Be-Bop-a-Lula” had come out just a few months before the movie.
As a 16-year-old ninth grader in Brookfield, Haydock started his band the Boppers, modelled after Vincent’s backup group, the Blue Caps. Eventually known as Ron Haydock & the Boppers, they became one of Chicago’s first proper rock ‘n’ roll groups, back when the sound was still rooted in rockabilly (Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, et cetera). The Boppers cut two 45s for Cha Cha Records, a tiny label based in South Holland, Illinois: the 1959 song “99 Chicks,” though largely ignored at the time, is now hailed as a classic, loaded with propulsive Little Richard-style piano pounding, a guitar solo that uses literally three notes, and urgent, hiccupy vocals that sometimes recall a hopped-up Buddy Holly. The B side, “Be-Bop-A Jean,” is a tribute to Vincent’s hit, and like “99” it has a ramshackle exuberance and a primitive, trebly ax solo.
The Boppers’ second Cha Cha release, a 1960 single that paired the tuneful Haydock original “Baby Say Bye Bye” with a reverby cover of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene,” made no real impact either, even though the band appeared on WNBQ-TV’s rockin’ dance show Chicago Band Stand, an American Bandstand copycat emceed by David J. Hull (who supposedly received more than 150 letters every week from teen fans).
Haydock disbanded the Boppers soon after he got married in 1960, but they left behind loads of unreleased sessions. Cha Cha would later release several of them with “unissued 1950’s masters” printed on the labels, including a cover of Gene Vincent’s “Rollin’ Danny” and the uber-rockin’ originals “Knock Out” and “Bop Hop.”
In pursuit of a Hollywood career, Haydock left for California, where he returned to his love for horror movies, pulp fiction, and the written word in general. He published his own fanzines (most notably Ape) and wrote for the ones his friends started too. In 1961 he became the editor of the Graveyard Examiner newsletter for the popular Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, published by legendary superfan Forrest J. Ackerman. In 1962 and ’63, Haydock also wrote and edited for a short-lived magazine called Fantastic Monsters of the Films, created by two friends he’d met through Ackerman, B-movie special-effects wizard Paul Blaisdell and film editor and actor Bob Burns. It covered similar territory in a more grown-up style, and the magazine’s staff put together a weekly Los Angeles radio show that Haydock cohosted.
Also in 1962, under various noms de plume (most often Don Sheppard or Vin Saxon), Haydock began writing smutty pulp novels with lurid titles such as The Flesh Peddlers, Ape Rape, and Scarlet Virgin. On his way to becoming a Renaissance man of trash culture, he soon branched out into exploitation films too. In 1963 he met future cult director Ray Dennis Steckler while covering the production of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, and they formed a lasting personal and professional relationship. Haydock’s work in Steckler’s movies is probably what he’s most famous for today.
Haydock made his film debut playing state trooper Officer Tracy in the unsettling 1964 proto-slasher film The Thrill Killers. His most beloved role is that of rock star Lonnie Lord, aka Rat Pfink, in Steckler’s 1966 oddity Rat Pfink a Boo Boo, which switches gears halfway through from crime drama to superhero parody. Haydock also cowrote the script and contributed songs to the score, including the ridiculously catchy and absurd “You Is a Rat Fink” and the juiced-up Boppers outtakes “Running Wild” and “I Stand Alone.” (To help promote the movie, Cha Cha subsidiary Cap released “Rat Fink” and “I Stand Alone” as a 45 under the name “Lonnie Lord.”)
Haydock was still grinding out X-rated books too, among them Sex-a-Reenos and Pagan Lesbians. But after appearing in one more bizarro Steckler comedy in 1966, a trilogy of shorts collectively titled The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters, Haydock went into a mental tailspin and sought professional help. Unfortunately, the drugs he was prescribed seemed to make him erratic, even suicidal. His friends in LA had never known him to abuse anything stronger than caffeine, but Steckler says Haydock shaved his head and became spacey and withdrawn.
In late 1967, Haydock moved back to Chicago to stay with his mother. He kept busy, recording nearly two dozen unfinished acoustic demos that year. In 1968 he relocated to New York, staying with comics historian and writer Bhob Stewart, and though his detachment and depression hadn’t improved, he did take some jobs Stewart found for him. He wrote stories for Jim Warren’s Creepy magazine and composed the copy for the backs of the 1968 Topps trading cards released to accompany the sci-fi TV series Land of the Giants.
By 1971 Haydock was back in California and back to working with Steckler, who’d moved to Las Vegas. He played a psychotic and possibly supernatural sword-wielding killer in the paper-thin, delightfully corny horror flick Blood Shack (aka The Chooper), which he also cowrote. Haydock continued to struggle with his mental health, but in 1974 he became an associate editor and writer for the magazine Monsters of the Movies, which lasted for a few glorious issues. He also edited one-shot film magazines for E-Go Publications from ’74 till ’77.
Haydock suffered a breakdown after losing a gig in 1977, and on August 14 of that year he was struck and killed by an 18-wheeler while walking on an exit ramp from Route 66—he’d been visiting Steckler in Las Vegas and was attempting to hitchhike back to LA. Haydock was buried two days later, the same day Elvis Presley died. His grave is in Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in southwest suburban Justice, Illinois.
Though he achieved no widespread fame in life, today Haydock is celebrated by underground weirdos and outsider historians from all over. His work with the Boppers was compiled for a Swedish LP two years after his death, and in 1996 Norton Records released a more thorough retrospective titled 99 Chicks (reissued on LP in 2005). Norton label head Miriam Linna has championed Haydock as a fringe-culture hero in articles, liner notes, and books—so here’s hoping he’ll one day get mentioned in the same breath as Ed Wood Jr., Hasil Adkins, and Michael J. Weldon. v
The radio version of the Secret History of Chicago Music airs on Outside the Loop on WGN Radio 720 AM, Saturdays at 5 AM with host Mike Stephen. Past shows are archived here.