COPPEROPOLIS, CALIF., OCT. 27—The Sierra Nevada foothills have been the backdrop for many a wild and romantic tale as far back as there has been recorded lore. Rich with history lent by forefathers like Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Black Bart, John Sutter, Levis Strauss and several other Gold Rush-era notables who trod the trails between the Gold Rush encampments of the 1800s, it’s quickly discovered that the area is a perfect place for the creative and curious mind. Toss in a bunch of great, oak-lined back roads and a little bit of vampy blues and the next thing you know you have the makings of a bad-ass biker flick. Or at least that’s the way it came together for one such notable modern-day character.
Charlie Brechtel has been living and riding the foothills above Sacramento, California, for the better part of his adult life. After moving to California at the age of 19, Charlie made a name for himself as a well-rounded musician who sings the blues while travelling as far away as Russia to share his tunes. Hailing from New Orleans, where his grandmother ran the local brothel and his dad was a notable outlaw, the 59-year-old came hard-wired with a natural feel for what the blues are all about and audiences tend to relate to the message as well as the lilt of his original music. How he came to write a screenplay is a continuation of a theme.
“You know, it’s really just a story about my life, if you look at it. It kinda wrote itself, actually,” Charlie says. “I’ve been working on it for about a year and a half, we’ve been shooting since June, andit’s a collection of people I’ve met and respect and they’re just playing themselves, really. All I did was bring them all together so we’ve got great people from both worlds. In the motorcycling world there’s guys like Tony “Pan” Sanfelipo, the first Freedom Fighter inducted into the Sturgis Hall of Fame and Dave Zien, the former Wisconsin state senator and million-mile rider. Those guys are big-time in motorcycling history. And look, there’s Woody from the Buffalo Chip, Berry Wardlaw from Accurate Engineering in Louisiana and Nicky Bootz and guys like Kim Petersen from Easyriders and Michael Lichter but there’s the other part of my life, too. There’s Charlie Musselwhite, the famous harmonica blues player, and Deacon Jones and Guitar Mac. I mean, these guys are icons in the blues world and they came out to be in the movie so it’s pretty cool that the motorcycle world is meeting the blues world. It’s pretty simple, just like me, ya know?”
In actuality, it isn’t simple at all. What Charlie has managed to do in Rebel on the Highway is meld the best of two worlds that rest at polar opposite ends. “I’ve never been a part of that Blues Society scene, even though I’ve been asked to play at some of the festivals and stuff, but I’m about motorcycles and I’ve just always been in that circle.” So imagine Brechtel’s delight when he called Charlie Musselwhite up to ask if he’d like to play in the jam scene and be part of the soundtrack and Charlie said yes.
Brechtel has shared the stage with a wide range of talented, and famous, musicians and delights in telling stories about hanging out with Greg Allman and John Lee Hooker but he had never met harps player Charlie Musselwhite. It took just one call for Musselwhite to sign on. Once he saw the commitment, and the fun, involved with the movie the famous bluesman, with more than 20 albums to his name, asked if there were any other roles open. Charlie immediately wrote Musselwhite into the script as Gabriel, the harmonica-playing archangel who opens the gates of heaven. Musselwhite and his wife Henrietta spent three days hanging out with bikers during the course of the NorCal shoot that would include riding scenes with almost 200 motorcycles and guys from a variety of motorcycle clubs. The couple enjoyed every minute.
Someone Charlie did know was Deacon Jones. Having met the famous organ player some 30 years ago, the two have shared a stage often so it was only natural that Deacon would be part of the cast when telling Charlie’s story. Unfortunately, when it came time for Deacon’s scene, he was gravely ill in a SoCal hospital. Once Jones discovered the shoot could not be rescheduled he got himself dressed and, against doctor’s orders, signed out of the hospital and hit the road for NorCal with his lady Pam Hill by his side.
“Man, who does that? Who breaks out of a hospital?” Charlie shook his head. “I mean, that’s some pretty heavy shit, right there. That’s a true friend for sure.” Both Deacon and Pam have speaking roles in the film and their entire scenes were shot as Deacon struggled with his illness. As soon as the words, “It’s a wrap!” were shouted the couple packed the car and headed down to L.A. to check Deacon back into the hospital.
And that’s how this whole project has come together: through friendships. The financial backing has come through various channels, but the primary funds are from long-time pal Dennis SanFilippo. Dubbed “Mr. Lucky” since his $39 million-dollar windfall from winning the lottery back in 1992, Dennis stepped up with cash. He also shuttled cast, fed the masses and plays a part in the film. Rene Duncan from Montana Banana Jerky showed up with jerky for the entire cast and crew during a recent shoot. The local pizza shop asked if they could swap pizzas for an opportunity to be in the film. The local hotel is owned by Dennis’s friend and out- of-town guests are treated with respect. Charlie’s goal is to keep cost below $150,000, an unheard-of budget for even the most modest of today’s production projects and they are still well below that number as they near the editing phase. The original soundtrack will be recorded in a local studio. Location filming has taken the crew all across the country, including Milwaukee, Charlie’s birthplace of New Orleans, and next month, Arizona. They plan to wrap up shooting by January with a premiere date of July 2017.
With a storyline that sounds a lot like the 1980 film Crossroads mixed with The Blues Brothers, with a dash of Aesop’s Fables (think The Tortoise and the Hare) and a pinch of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Cinderella) all sprinkled with a heavy dose of bikers and blues and you have yourself an entertaining little flick worth checking out. Rebel on the Highway has the potential to become a cult classic along the lines of Blues Brothers or Easy Riders but all with a lighthearted approach and starring all your favorite familiar biker clan faces. There is no heavy swearing, blood, gore or high speed crashes. But there are some giggles and a bad-ass race between good and evil and we can’t wait to see how it all turns out. Extras consist of riders from all the areas they filmed in and you’ll see patches from just about every MC imaginable so be sure to make it out to see a premiere when it comes out next summer. You might even see a THUNDER PRESS editor in there; who knows? Meanwhile, follow the progress on Facebook at Rebel on the Highway the Movie.