Big Daddy’s son exhibits hot rod art at Galerie Blu’u
August 8, 2008
Shifty Powers comes to life Saturday at an opening reception for Dennis “Little Daddy” Roth’s art exhibit at Galerie Blu’u.
Roth is following the tracks of burned rubber behind his father Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the father of the Kustom Culture and the Rat Fink character. The gallery inside the MontBleu Resort and Casino will feature 18 originals by Little Daddy, along with seven prints and a Bonneville Big Wheel all month. And, of course, the Big Daddy original known as “Little Daddy” will be on hand for the cocktail reception beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9.
“Dennis took the brunt of Dad’s craziness,” said Darryl, one of Big Daddy’s five sons. Little Daddy explained his condition: “Some people say I have OCD,” he said. “I call it focusing.”
Big Daddy, who died in 2001, also had five wives. Little Daddy’s had three so far.
The four surviving Roth brothers are continuing their father’s legacy.
“My brothers help me, but the main part of it is me,” Little Daddy said. “I build cars and do artwork. I’m the one that they make do all the work.”
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Along with craziness, Little Daddy has inherited his dad’s skill. At least he feels that it’s hereditary. However, he’s been working at it since he was a youngster.
“We all had to work in the shop when we were 5 years old,” Little Daddy said. “The first car I ever worked on was the original (1962) Beatnik Bandit.”
The joystick steering control under the hot rod’s bubble top led to the creation of the character Shifty Powers.
“Little Daddy is Shifty Powers,” said Steve “Vasco” Vasconcellos of Galerie Blu’u. “He lives and breathes those characters. It’s possible he’s been breathing the fumes of the paint too.”
Little Daddy agreed.
“My dad was Rat Fink, and I think through the other characters there’s a little bit of me in every one of them,” Little Daddy said. “I’m Shifty Powers because I have the power to shift, baby.”
Little Daddy picked up his nickname when he was in the military.
“I used to get letters from my dad when I was in the Army,” he said. “Everybody knew my dad was Big Daddy Roth, so they called my Little Daddy, and it stuck.”
After his time in the military, Little Daddy resumed working on cars with his father. In 1997, they created a new Beatnik Bandit, and both versions of the cars are on display at the National Automobile Museum in Reno.
“It’s kind of crazy to see the cars you that worked on as kid in a museum sitting side by side with cars Henry Ford built,” Little Daddy said. “It’s a little humbling sometimes.”
Little Daddy, who still lives in his father’s hometown of Bell in Los Angeles County, attends about 20 shows a year. At the end of the month he will tour Germany. His major project for the year is a street-legal version of the Beatnik Bandit, which he hope to complete in time for an annual industry show in Las Vegas.
“This is just a progression of what I’ve been doing the whole time,” Little Daddy said. “Filling Big Daddy’s shoes is quite a job. … He’s probably looking down on me and my brothers going ‘Good on you.’ “
While vacationing in Southern California, Bob Lopez heard that Ed “Big Daddy” Roth was going to pinstripe a car for the public. The South Lake Tahoe resident, who had been following Big Daddy’s career his entire life, went to the demonstration and started a conversation with the hot rod icon.
“I’d been drawing his characters since I was 10 years old,” Lopez said. “We hit it right off. He said, ‘You are a painter? You’d probably like to my latest project.’ “
Roth invited Lopez to his house: That’s the way it is with car people.
“You can tell when you meet another car person,” Lopez said. “We all kind of talk that same talk.”
Roth’s son, Dennis “Little Daddy” Roth, said car talk breaks down all barriers.
“It really doesn’t matter what color you are, or who you are, if you’re famous or just nobody,” Little Daddy said. “The car is what everyone is into. Sure my dad would bring him over to the house and check stuff out ” no problem. That’s that’s the way you learn.”
Roth’s Tahoe connection is area resident Bud Gaugh, and Sublime’s former drummer. Roth drew album covers for Sublime and ZZ Top ” well-known car fan Billy Gibbons’ band.
A lucrative career in music can allow an artist to spend time having fun with automobiles.
“(Gaugh) pretty much paints cars and drag races now,” Little Daddy said. “That’s pretty much what I do. I’ve known Jeff Beck for 35 years. Like Eric Clapton says, all he does is work on his cars and play guitar. Billy Gibbons is the same. He works on his cars and plays guitar.”
The Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles was site of a recent Roth exhibit and a concert featuring Gibbons, Beck and fellow car enthusiasts Jimmy Vaughan (Fabulous Thunderbirds) and Michael Anthony (Sammy Hagar, Van Halen).
When he wanted to remember the “Monster Garage” episode in which he helped build a “Monster Woody,” Bob Lopez could always look at the DVD.
It’s now a lot more vivid. All Lopez has to do is look in his garage, where he can see the 1950 Ford Woody.
“In all my wildest dreams I never thought I’d own this car,” said Lopez, who on Monday drove the Woody from South Lake Tahoe to Reno, where it is on display at Hot August Nights. “To be driving it around is the ultimate thrill.”
Lopez, two of his building partners from the TV program and two other Woody collectors purchased the automobile at an auction last spring. The Discovery Channel auctioned about 30 of the vehicles built on Jesse G. James’ 2002-06 television show.
Lopez estimated that the car would go for about $100,000. But it was one of the first cars to be auctioned and it went for a mere $28,000.
Lopez spent several days last week driving the Woody around town, getting plenty of curious looks and inquiries.
“Sometimes they ask if this is the Woody that’s was on the show, and they go absolutely crazy when I tell them that it is,” Lopez said. “It drives and handles pretty damned good for being built in four and a half days.”
The Woody was converted by Lopez and four partners into a four-wheel-drive with a 1984 Ford Bronco front end. It has a 10-inch lift with 36-inch wheels customized by James. It has a fuel-injected 350 Chevrolet engine, which provided last-minute drama for the show: The person who was supposed to install the fuel injector wasn’t up to the task, forcing the rest of the crew to figure it out before the deadline. James blew up all the “Monster Garage” vehicles that didn’t run at the end of the episode.
“In the corner is all these burned-up pieces of metal, and above is a huge digital clock counting down the time,” Lopez said. “We had to be organized and had to keep moving. On the DVD you could see the stress we were under. I had nightmares for three months afterward.”
There were three requirements to make the show: be a surfer, drive a Woody and know how to build a car. Four people recommended Lopez.
Lopez, who has lived at Tahoe since 1964, surfs when he visits the ocean coast or islands. He said he has too many lifelong friends in Tahoe to relocate to an area where he could surf all the time.
However, Lopez is looking forward to one winter activity involving his Woody: “It will be fun to drive around in snow,” he said.