Thou Shalt Drag ~ “Big Daddy” Roth Lives ! A California Genius in his Heyday • 1963
Although this Modern Day Badass Hot Rod was not built in California ~ The Style it Embodies is completely a la Ed “Big Daddy” Roth 1963…
And California-Style It Is…Having seen, owned & been exposed to A Lot of Hot Rods, Federico had to admire Blown to Be Wild for the Sheer HotRod Audacity, Craftsmanship & Total Big Daddy RothNess of a Monster Car Come to Life ~
Though we now use any manner of digital technology to create Modern Art, preserve Nostalgia, Pop Culture & Retro-Everything, ( which I am Shamelessly Guilty Of ), One of the Most Iconic California Pop Maestro MasterMinds, Mr. Ed Roth, like Mssrs. Matisse, Picasso & Dali before him, gazed for the most part Wholly and Phantasmagorically Into the Future. None of these Neo-Artistes sat and lamented on Things ‘Back in the Day’, but completely without the aid of computers or digital devices of any kind, Roth created a FantasyLand of FantasticNess we now Worship as California High Art …and Rightfully So ~
Big Daddy embraced a wholly original technique d’art. Using Plaster of Paris to create a master shape for his Outlandish California Creations, he would hand form a molten batch of Goo into a hardened Futuristic Shape and cover it all with FiberGlass, a relatively new media technology developed during World War II. What would begin as a Big Mess on the floor, Roth would transform into a Rolling Renaissance Machine, like “Mysterion” above, built in 1963 and “Beatnik Bandit”, below in 1960.
” In Africa I had got this fantastic idea for a fiberglas car when I saw a picture of Henry Ford beatin’ the trunk of one o’ his new ’41 Fords with a sledge hammer and it wouldn’t dent. Ya could’a knocked me over with a feather. It was also very cheap! It could also be done by people with little or no talent and I had both. It seemed too far out for my brain so I just dismissed it ’til I saw the LIFE article. In ’57 I started playin’ with ‘glas’. I got some of the gooiest messes ya’d ever wanna see. My pants are always ruined by the end of each day, but in them days I’d have to throw ’em away each day. Shoes was good for about 4 days before I’d throw a coat of black paint on ’em.”
“First I had the frame which was your basic ’29 Ford rails and fitted this junk Caddy engine into (junk but ran good). I knew fiberglas existed but couldn’t get anyone to help me (except Dirty Doug later on) so I was gonna make me a body outa wood like the Shadoff Special guys’d done. But it was too complicated and besides, wood and me don’t jive! So I went to the local lumber yard and got some casting plaster (which is gross ’cause it dries so quick) but it was cheap and better’n wood.”
“Makin’ the buck was no problem. Guys in Detroit was usin’ clay since the early 20’s but clay was a buck a pound. Forget it! Plaster was a buck for 100 pounds. I used that! Then I covered the plaster with this messy, ooey, gooey stuff. I mean, like, it just ran into this big pile of mush on the asphalt. It was devastating.”
From “Hot Rods By Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth”/Roth,Thacker 1995
Early Big Daddy – hand airbrushing Monster Shirts, pre-Fame and screenprint days. Above right, Justifiably Proud Big D with Outlaw, 1956-60. His 1st FiberGlass car, and its Offspring, the Revell licensed model kit of it you can still buy today.
Gazillions of the model kits were made of several Roth creations..and for a while at least, in His Heyday, Big Daddy was makin’ Big Bucks..He had literally Created a Monster and Mysterion defined the Early 60’s California Hot Rod Era ~
Roth built Most of his Masterpieces along with producing his T-shirts at Roth Studios, his very Low-Techy Mad Scientist’s Laboratory on Slauson Avenue in Maywood, an L.A. suburb. Revell American produced model car kits that featured the “Beatnik Bandit” and “Road Agent”. Other model kits included “Rat Fink” and the gang, a group of hot rodding monsters. During 1963 Revell paid Ed “Big Daddy” Roth a one cent royalty for each model sold. In 1963 Ed brought in $32,000 that year in royalties, that’s a lot of model kits…
Big Daddy Ed, The Old World Craftsman, built his California Creations almost single-handedly in his small shop, heating and blowing Plexiglas Bubble Tops for his Masterpieces in a pizza oven, like some Mad Venetian GlassBlower Time Travelling to Shakey’s ~
Later On he got so busy he hired a few Dedicated Employees, guys like Dirty Doug, Robert Williams and Ed ‘Newt’ Newton, who drew most of the Cool Monster T-shirt designs. Years later, Roth would work with Moldy Marvin, who carries on the Roth Legacy, maintaining ‘All Things Roth’ to this day.
Roth was Getting So Big he started printing Catalogs – Perfect Reading During 4th Grade Math Class…
His lightweight, rear-engine Space-Age Road Agent, used a rear-mounted Corvair engine and ultra-light construction, you’ve gotta love those StarTrek pods on the sides….preceding the StarShip Enterprise, which wouldn’t be seen on the new T.V. show Star Trek for another 2 years…
Big Daddy, no Average Beatnik – demonstrated a Stroke of Pure Genius completely devoid of Modern Technology….i.e. arguably the first use of what we know as ‘RGB’ color in a non-printing application, with the lighting on his Orbitron, below, 1964. An excellent article on Orbitron is here :
Big Daddy had a family to support. He had quit his job as a Window Display artist at Sears-Roebuck and financed his Custom Car Creations work through sales of the ‘Monster’ T-shirts, travelling around to various Custom & Hot Rod Shows and related events for years, parlaying his designs into lucrative licensing agreements with Revell, for the Model Kits. Today we think of the T-shirt, with any manner of design on it, to be anywhere from ‘Designer’ couture – as in a simple black petite ladies T-shirt with ‘Prada’ on the front, to a 12 year-old’s latest Volcom ‘Surfwear’ 18-color-cool-for-a-week-design.
Every time you see some ‘Metal’ or ‘Punk’-flavoured design or ‘Urban’ streetwear, and All the Kids and Half the Adults are ‘rocking’ Cool Skulls-this-or-that, you’ve got Big Daddy Roth to Thank, because he Did it First…
Roth did his original shirts by hand, graduating to silkscreens in one to 3-4 colors, a contemporary of Mr. Andy Warhol with regard to screenprinting technology. Considering a Warhol screenprint is now worth several hundred-thousand to millions of dollars – at the same time Big Daddy was knocking out hundreds of screenprints, all the while producing 3-dimensional full-size Rolling & Driving Works of Art.
Another often overlooked aspect of Big Daddy’s Intellect were his sometimes subtle to blatant messages to Us Kids on the subjects of Anti -War, Question-Authority, yet showing Respect to Soldiers, Servicemen & Country, Government, Cops, The Establishment & encouraging us to ‘Stick It to the Man’.
Of course it was All in Fun and he was just Covering All His Bases. This was 1963-1965, Vietnam was still relatively unknown to the Average Kid, but the Big Kids knew, and Roth was speaking to them too ~
Although Roth knew Full Well – Kids were his Audience, his Army in America and We Were the Future …
…he wasn’t always so Popular with the Parents..but in Retrospect – through his Crazy California Ways, his Humour with Tongue Firmly in Cheek and his Unmistakable Genius, maybe he was Right…and perhaps now one can ask – have we Learned any Lessons he was trying to Let Us in On ?
I was In The Presence of The Great Big Daddy Roth Twice. Once at the young age of my Peers in the photo above, at an L.A. Car Show, watching Roth airbrush T-shirts, just like in the photo up top there, by himself working away, covered in paint ~ a cloud of enamel haze around his head.
He obviously made an impression, as 10 or 15 years later, I was now a young Graphic Designer/Sign Maker sharing a studio not entirely different than Roth’s above with an early partner, whose Dad was Head of the Graphics and Sign Shop at Knott’s Berry Farm. Big Daddy was working there at the time, toward the End of his Career. So of course we went to see him, and I was Beside Myself. Walking into this archaic wooden, very rural-style shop left over from the Early 30’s Days of Knott’s, my expression upon meeting him was no doubt like those of the boys in that photo above, a Jaw-Dropping Idol of mine. I had been One of Those Kids. Roth had managed to Pinstripe, Flame, Scroll and Letter – in tiny script practically the entire surface of the Shop Interior with Big DaddySpeak.
With a wry grin, towering over me – he shook my hand and chatted with us for a few minutes, before mounting his Equally Vintage Cruiser Bike, also completely BigDaddy-ized with Perfect Pinstriping and Dazzling Druid Decoration on every inch of metal surface, as He Rode off on yet another Fantasy Mission into the California Sunset ~