August 10, 2015
Claude’s Commentary No. 77
By Claude Hall
A real rock ‘n’ roll mama. She was. She really was. But I never thought of her that way. To me, she was Karen Velline, the wife of Bobby Vee and mother of his three boys and his daughter. A damned good mother. A good friend. She passed away this past week of a lung condition that her husband spent a fortune to cure. And couldn’t. God has His own reasons why some of us go and others go later. And they are good reasons. I guess. My wife Barbara will miss her like a close sister, which she was. This family will miss her. And mourn her death as if she was a close aunt, though she was closer than that. The Vellines are family friends. They lived up the street in Los Angeles for a few years and Barbara would usually spend the day there and then come home and they would soon be on the phone. My kids – John, Darryl, Andy -- grew up with her kids – Jeff, Tommy, Robby, Jenny. Our families camped together on occasion. Once, in the Sequoias where Karen prepared S’mores. Another time at 29 Palms where, suddenly, Jenny and Andy, babes, were missing and we discovered them high on the edge of a cliff, sitting there, swinging their legs more than a hundred or so feet in the sky. I was about to panic. Karen just said, “Come on down from there” and turned away. I will always remember the evening Bob built a campfire. The kids sang Steve Miller tunes around the fire long into the night.
After the Vellines – Bob’s real name – moved back to Minnesota, we visited them at the home Bob’d built on the Mississippi and later at his cabin on a lake. When Bob moderated a panel of superacts at an International Radio Programming Forum at the Plaza in New York City, she came and the Halls and the Vellines sprawled on a suite floor, sipping wine, gossiping about our kids, one entire evening.
She was a good wife to Bob and a great mother for their kids. Earlier in his career, she’d even traveled with him on tours … probably those Dick Clark things which you can still witness on various films around. She was that backstage person who helps out. Even washing the underthings of Dusty Springfield. Silly, huh? But Karen was the perfect helpmate for a rock star. And Bob was a superstar virtually around the world!
Robby Vee went out on his own and he and his rockabilly band perform throughout the Midwest. He’s good. Packs them in! Bobby Vee has appeared as a guest from time to time. Tommy and Jeff have a recording studio in St. Cloud, MN, and play backup – Tommy on bass, Jeff on drums -- for various bands. They played in Bob’s band when he was performing. Jenny has an art studio in Rochester, MN.
Later, on a musical cruise ship promoted by Paul Revere where Bob performed with two of his sons, Tommy and Jeff, and two of Tommy’s kids, she was there. Bob carried her oxygen generator. By now her lungs were in really poor shape. Bob had already tried highly experimental treatments. I mentioned these in an earlier Commentary. She flew into the Dominican Republic because those treatments were illegal in the states. She went through a lung replacement at Duke. She made medical history in some medical magazine.
It’s sad that she’s gone. Bob has Alzheimer’s now. He needs her around. I believe the world still needs her around. The Halls miss Karen Velline.
VOX JOX MATTERS
Next week, you’ll find your Commentary at voxjox.org. I love all of you, but the mailing each week is sometimes messy and a very wonderful person has volunteered to feature the column in a blog, thus saving me a bunch of work and worry. Too, if I punk out, you’ll still have a “watering hole” and keep the world that we loved and enjoyed alive at least in memory.
From the very first note, I loved this CD. Matt Forbes with “Coulda Woulda Shoulda” on Old Bag Records. This guy is a giant superstar! Backed by a sensational band. And Forbes not only has The Voice, but the phrasing that reminds you of every deep love you’ve had, every dark night parked with your favorite love while listening to the radio. This guy has the vocal power, the gift and the whim. It’s difficult to pick a “best” tune. Without question, he gets into your heart with the familiar “Beyond the Sea,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and “Once Upon a Time.” Guess I’d pick “Some of These Days.” This tune has that big band swing touch going for it. But I’ve always loved the tune “Something Stupid” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it better than by Matt Forbes.” Ah, ah … just great, Mr. Forbes! I realize that some radio stations are already playing this CD. My sincere compliments. Great on you! I’m totally impressed.
As you may have surmised, the great promotional guru Don Graham is performing his magic on the Matt Forbes CD. To wit, this note from Morris Diamond, a legendary music sage who lives in the Palm Springs region, written to Don Graham.
Morris Diamond: “Hey, Donald … I was just preparing to leave the house at noon today to attend the weekly Thursday Lunch Bunch with Charlie Barrett, Danny Davis, and 30 other Palm Springs entertainment residents when the mail arrived with the Matt Forbes CD. I was happy because it’s a 20-minute drive for me to the Villa Portofino Country Club where our lunches are and a good time to ‘audition’ the CD while driving. It was very pleasant company … his foto and stature is a big reminiscent of Sinatra … but that’s all. A few of the tunes were Sinatra types, but what singer doesn’t do some songs that were at one time or another associated with Frankie. What I loved about his performances, the charts were great and original … not like Buble, whose repertoire is all Sinatra instrumentally, Matt has his own original style and I loved it. He doesn’t try to sound like Frank, and that’s what’s going to bring him home. He should be ready for vibrado, Catalina, and some of the casinos here in Palm Springs. You’ve got yourself a winner. Mazeltov! Love you and Robin.”
Just FYI, Robin is the charming wife of Don Graham. I’ve never met her, but I understand she’s a singer. And a good one. Worked with Don Ho.
Rollye James: “I was so sorry to hear about Karen Velline. Considering what Bobby's facing, this is a horrible blow for him. I'm relieved his kids are close to him. You may have also noticed the passing of Billy Sherrill. 78, throat cancer. I worked with a lot of people in Nashville, but he probably had more impact on me than any of them. Apart from his skills in the studio (and not only country -- he produced some really nice soul stuff on Okeh), was his wonderfully dry sense of humor. Life intervenes. I haven't spoken to him in going on 40 years, but I'll miss him as if it was yesterday. It's been a sad week.”
Barry Hale: “After battling ill health since suffering sudden cardiac arrest in 2006, the end has come for our dear friend Sam Hale. We apologize for this impersonal notification but you were on a list that Sam prepared to be informed. Wife Carolyn and the children hope you will understand that they desire to be alone in their grief and adjustment and trust you will understand and won't be offended at the request for no phone calls or visits. The funeral was private and held at the family cemetery in TN.”
Jim Gabbert: “Claude, very glad you came through your ordeal ... maybe the Hitler-designed bed helped! This is a very interesting story: In 1975-76 K-101 FM and AM in SF was doing nothing but minting money hand over fist and I was bored! Decided to buy KDWB as they also were at 101 and negotiated the price, the down payment was to be $350,000 and the rest of the money to follow. It was December and the coldest winter in Minneapolis and the broker, Hugh Ben Larue, was sitting in my office and at the spur of the moment I asked: ‘It's too cold in Minni, got any stations in a warm spot?’ His answer was, yes, ‘I have a 10,000-watt AM at 830 Khz and a construction permit for 100 KW FM at 93.9 Mhz in Honolulu’. They were in chapter 7 bankruptcy and the total price was $350,000. Just then Pat O'Day had bought KORL in the market and, of course, KKUA was top dog in Top 40, KGMB with Aku dominated the adult market, Fred Constant had just bought KPOI so I did the deal without even seeing the stations. Finally got over to Honolulu and took KIKI over and tried going after KGMB. Not so good! Then we went Top forty and zoomed up very fast! The FM was built and ready to go and we were going to program AOR. At the same time Woody Sudbrink had bought ‘the Duke’ FM and was going AOR. In San Francisco Howard Graffman owned ‘the Camel’ KMEL. I wanted an animal for Hawaii so I found the call letters KPIG were available. At the last minute we decided to go disco (the night before) so we were up all night carting disco music. At the same time for 36 hours we had a stereo recording of pigs in a pig farm oinking with a very local accent: ‘The pig is coming man!’ The Disco Pig was born! Within three months the AM, KIKI , had a 14 share and the FM came out of the box with and 8 share which gave us a 22 share of a 30-plus station market. Now with Hawaii conquered and San Francisco minting money it was time to sell and buy a bankrupt UHF (Channel 20) in San Francisco! Ended up another home run! Recently I visited with Pat O'Day who is a successful real estate broker in Friday Harbor, Washington. After a nice visit and looking at the state of radio today we both reached the same conclusion: ‘we think radio has a problem!’ Those were the days!!”
Lots of publicity zooming hither and yon about the success of Dave Sholin at a radio station in Bend, OR. KSJJ-FM. Don Graham may have been the first to spread the news. Don’t know. Les Garland was in there, too, spreading the good news. Not only does Dave Sholin have a ton of friends in radio, but it’s sort of like many of us, including me, were right there in the middle of everything and also reaping the glories of his ratings. Great on you, Dave! I couldn’t be more pleased. Isn’t it nice to be a hero again?
Mike McVay, Cumulus Media and Westwood One: “Hi Claude ... Sadly Bill Bailey did pass away a few years ago. He was a PD in Grand Rapids when he passed. This a blur now but I am going to say 5-7 years ago.”
You know, there has to be two Bill Baileys around. Was this the country Bill Bailey I used to know? Once a giant in Houston?
Dave Anthony: “Thanks to John Long for his note about bringing Domino Rippy to Minneapolis. I never knew how he got there or when; he was just there when I was hired to program KDWB in 1984. A quick Domino story that maybe someone could officially verify or deny, as I heard it second-hand and always wondered whether it was true or not. As the legend goes, one night while driving the KCBQ van around San Diego, Domino didn’t show up wherever he was expected. It turns out that he was found by the authorities stopped in the middle of a four-way intersection – in the KCBQ van – smoking some funny cigarettes. Never found out if that tale was true or not but it sounded like him. Many days at KDWB I’d look in the studio during a long song only to find the room vacant. Experience revealed that he was out in his car in a cloud of that same funny smoke. I never bothered him about it because I was most interested in how his show sounded, which was always on the money, and not how he accomplished it. He was also the union’s shop steward.”
Eliot Field: “The future of radio? What's wrong with the past? Fibber McGee & Molly, Tina & Tim, Ma Perkins, The Shadow, & lets not forget ‘Hibbity Gits Hot Saw Ring Bo Ree Simonia Skibitty Hi Lo Dee, Honee Ko Dokes With An Allie Kazon, Sing This Song With Your Uncle Don]. (Added HBO version) That otta hold the little bastards for another night.”
You were conferring with Domino Rippy … right?
Joey Reynolds: “I would be leaving this planet with no amends to a very talented man named Roger Carroll. He took a chance and put me in syndication on GWB. Golden West broadcasting stations owned by Gene Autry when no one was paying attention to my foolishness I was introduced by Jim Davis who had me on KMPC when he shifted the station fromysic to talk? Roger was a very good jock who also became a network TV announcer with the Smothers Brothers on CBS. Roger signed me up and Tom Shovan produced and edited this comedy hour that followed the Angels games, also owned by the cowboy. This was the precursor for my mobility which put me in all kinds of locations in LA. I was given the call to
be the first satellite host on satellite live from Dick&Bert Studio. I am grateful for the kick start in the comedy and talk direction to Roger Carroll and Jim Davis. My website is filled with these experiences. Tell Roger I forgot about his help and was drinking milk of amnesia. I admire Roger and was a bit of an A-hole in those days. Sorry about my bad be.”
Timmy Manocheo recommends: http://livemusicdaily.com/2015/08/04/sneak-peek-bob-weir-interview-with-dan-rather/
Herb Oscar Anderson: “Think of all the great personalities that had their schooling in radio … the WHOLE show business world was alive … they went into TV … stage … comedy … singers … that made the Klieg lights blue … those many hours alone … with you and a mic … forced the mind to develop so as not to bore and lose audience. Now every time we go to entertainment news … headlines always read: Ratings at new low. Well … it takes talent to be good … its takes guts to learn your craft. When I was released (fired) from ABC back in the 50s … I told a young Leonard Goldenson, ‘I’m coming back and don’t you forget it’. After WMCA I got a call from him. ‘I would like to have you back and I haven’t forgotten’. The rest is history. As the saying goes … ‘if you made it to the top you came through the back door a couple of times’. But today is another story. We must put the ‘show’ back in showbusiness … instead of the Rolodex mentality of the industry today. What do they teach in radio school today? How to spin the wheel?”
Mel Phillips: “Our mid-summer heatwave is about to break. We'll hit 91 today but the rest of the week will be in the delightful 80s. That's the end of my weather report. What I would like to talk about is the misnomer called Personality Radio. To me, that was the title that would be the forerunner of Talk Radio which evolved into a couple of different forms -- All News/Talk/Information/Sports, etc. and Political Talk (Rush, Hannity, Michael Savage, etc. etc.). I discount the cooking, fixit and car shows. These formats formed the subdivision of Talk Radio. While I don't approach the knowledgeable Michael Harrison in describing Talk Radio, in my view Joe Pyne was the first talk show radio host I ever heard. We carried his syndicated show at WMID Atlantic City in 1963. All the successful talk radio hosts that followed Pyne deserve all the credit (and ratings) they receive whether or not you or I like listening to them. The true test of success is in numbers and longevity. I don't put anyone down that achieves success over the years but to me the best true personalities I ever heard were the Top 40 people of the 60s and 70s. If you go market-by-market you can name a bunch of them. How about The Real Don Steele, Robert W. Morgan, Humble Harve? Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie (who started in the 50s), Walt ‘Baby’ Love, Dick Biondi, Joey Reynolds, J.J. Jeffrey, Dale Dorman. That's 10 right there and I haven't even scratched the surface. The people who could inject their personalities in 5 to 8 seconds before the hits came on. Those were the real personalities.”
Ken Dowe: “Ouch, Claude! Sorry about the Heart Failure. I made my biennial visit to the Oklahoma City Heart Clinic directly form Santa Fe on July 27. Dr. Craven gave me a good report. Still not to lift any more than a few pounds, will never be able to go on a tennis or racquet ball court again, and the usual stuff you’d know about. I woke up from an emergency appendectomy about five years ago, went home, and ended up in an ambulance, on my way straight back to the hospital ... in shock. All the anesthesia and medication pumped into me during surgery had overloaded my heart, which could not pump out the fluids. Turns out it was genetic. I got the same treatment. Mega doses of Lazix that kept me in the bathroom every 15 minutes all day until all the fluids were in the sewer system. ‘Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy’. My right ventricle is that of a 40-year-old, but the left one works at only 50%. Diagnosis: ‘I will live another 20 minutes. Or, 20 years’. They don’t know. Who does?
“Don’t we old people have great stories to tell? In the business of flying airplanes, we all tell daunting tales (lies) of our courage. We call it hangar flying: ‘So … there I was … alone in the dark … silenced engine … only the moon to light mountains that I could not see ... the wind whistling a melancholy melody ... and, and, and …!’ Hahaha! Post Script: Rod Roddy always told me Joey Reynolds was the King of Buffalo. Somebody has to be #1, so I reckon it’s Joey. Sorry, Danny! Dottie and I cherish our memories of Art Wander and our Atlanta good times. I remember when Art was the king of WMPH in Memphis, even though Jay Cook and I loved to drive to the levee in his Chevy, there in our Delta town of Greenville, MS, and sit up high so we could listen to Wink Martindale (‘Hey, WInkie!’) on WHBQ. And, to the talented Bob Sherwood: Bob, the Cumulo Nimbus, and the Heart Crowd at Clear Channel, don’t want folk like me around. I walk inside with a handful of dynamite. Most of them know my mantra: ‘You can fire me, but you can’t tell me what to do’. Alas, Bob ... I’m a loner … and a loner’s gotta be alone! :)”
Ken, I know the Lazix tale all too well. And a nurse kept coming to the bathroom door, knocking and asking if I was okay. Hell, no, I wasn’t okay!
More Ken Dowe: “Jim Rose in Houston received an inquiry from Jack Parnell, formerly a great jock on WHBQ, Memphis. He was looking for John Cook, son of the late Jay Cook. Here's my response which you may find of interest. I always forget now this stuff comes together!”
Ken Dowe to Jim Rose: “Jay Cook was my friend and mentor from the time I was 16 years old and Jay was a fresh graduate of Keegan's radio school in Memphis, working at WDDT in my home town of Greenville, MS. He has his wife Carolyn were uncommonly kind to a kid in the Deep Delta, who was totally fascinated by the magic of radio. Jay and I would drive a few blocks downtown in his ‘Chevy, to the levee’, so that the car antenna could reach into the sky and pull in Wink Martindale and Jack Parnell, my two favorites on WHBQ. Ironically, Jay's son John and I connected many years later when he was my most worthy competitor in Dallas as PD of KISS. I tried to hire him and he said no, then later ‘yes’. I have an almost unbelievable story about that! His dad Jay remained one of my closest friends his entire life. There was never a nicer fellow, and he was the smoothest, warmest, radio personality I ever heard. Incredible on-air performer. I tried to convince him to give up his WFIL PD position and take my place as Executive VP/GM at KTSA/KTFM in San Antonio when I bought my first station. He came down, but ultimately decided to stay in Philly where he and Carolyn were happy. That worked out well. Jay became President of Gannett, and I hired a young PD from DC to take my place in San Antonio. Really talented young man named ... Dan Mason. I'm actually a ‘talent scout?’ Please give Jack my email address and I will provide him with the last addresses and phone numbers of my friend John Cook. Funny how all of us in this wireless business remain wired together ... for lifetimes.”
Rich Richbro Robbin: “Thanks again, old comrade, for the GREAT work week after week after week!”
Richbro, I would love to hear/see your views of radio when you first ventured into it. Matter of fact, I would just love to hear from you, period. You’ve always been a star with me.
Big Jay Sorensen, WCBS-FM, New York: “Joey Reynolds is Mr. Hartford-Philadelphia-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit-Syracuse-Pittsburgh-NYC-LA-Miami, and at least 20 others. TV and Radio. And now he owns YouTube. And he ain't done conquering the airwaves either. Hope you're recovering well, Mr. Hall. All the best. BE BIG!”
Isn’t it funny how once a Joey Reynolds fan, forever and always a Joey Reynolds fan? Me, too. But don’t ever let him drive. Some day I’ll tell the story of a ride to the Century-Plaza in Los Angeles to breakfast with Dwight Case. And, then, again, maybe I won’t.
Just remembered! I was the one who drove that morning. Poor Joey. The good news is that he survived. But I seem to recall him yelling once or twice a block.
John Long: “Sam Hale, co-founder of the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame, is in hospice. Do you have Ken Dowe's email address by any chance? The one I have is no longer valid. Ken worked with Sam at WQXI in Atlanta in the 60s. I want to let him know about Sam. Please remember Carolyn and his family in your prayers. No information about which hospice.”
I forwarded John’s note, of course. Sam is a good man. Once worked in the Nashville area. Knew all of the biggies like Jack Stapp and Buddy Kileen. I consider Sam a great radio man and, although we never met, a good friend of mine. He was very helpful to the late Paul Drew and his widow. You’re in my prayers, Sam.
Ken Dowe to John Long: “Thanks for letting me know about Sam. Is it still his heart? He's certainly fought a long and courageous battle. Sam is one fine man. A real gentleman, during a time when too few remain.”
Bill Hatch: “Just a note to say I was sorry to read of your recent health issues and to wish you a speedy and complete recovery. Be well my Vox Jox friend.”
Burt Sherwood sent me – and others – a tribute to Bob Hope. Hope is one of those guys who should never be forgotten. Burt Sherwood: “This is the story of Bob Hope … for those of us who are older we remember him going to every part of the world to entertain the troops … he was a great nice man … I met him here in Sarasota one night before he was doing a concert. When Bob passed away my programming partner (Bill Hennes) and I had the luck to be called to consult his radio station in LA, KRLA (Pasadena, CA) … his daughter Linda ran it for the estate at that time. Enjoy.”
Doc Wendell: “Here's my piece on a rare Paul Chambers record. Chambers' was young, arrogant, and exactly what the world needed at the time.”
“Could you believe I wanted to play the trumpet? I couldn't get one blasted note so I stuck to the guitar which is easy. Here's a piece on the artist that made me want to play trumpet.”
“I continue to find sanctuary in my vast record collection. Everyday I find a gem to write about. My fan base is growing and life is good. Hope all is swingin' with you and my fellow bloggers.”
Ah, Doc … be difficult to do Commentary without you. The late Jack Roberts loved your stuff and so do I! My sincere appreciation. I’ve always had a fondness for the trumpet … especially when played by a Mexican.
Larry Cohen: “Here's wishful thinking. In response to Bob Sherwood's last weeks ‘WHAT IF’, wouldn't it be great if a Ken Dowe (a no B/S great guy) was brought in to take over CUMULUS MEDIA & their hundreds of radio stations & turn them around. On the NASDQ they are at an all-time low at $1.65 a share. I can't think of anyone more qualified currently in management who could meet this challenge. (Maybe a Paul Drew or Bill Drake could have pulled CUMULUS together but they are both ‘upstairs looking down’.) And I think the experienced & brilliant Bob Sherwood would make a great assistant & trouble shooter to Mr. Dowe in any possible takeover. Any takers? Sometimes wishful thinking becomes a reality. And yes, Ken, I love you also & have never forgotten your Dallas Cowboy stories, the bitter rivalry between my Philly Eagles & your Cowboys, but most of all the friendship you extended to me of which I have to this day never forgotten. P.S. And by the way, I'm sitting here on my ass holding 8,000 shares of CUMULUS & praying that someone in Atlanta reads this & contacts you.”
More Joey Reynolds: “Mercedes is ready for an OA meeting. I must have missed something, did you have a heart attack? I am so sorry to not pay attention in the blog; it was pointed out to me by Bill Hennes, he thinks the world of what you are doing, and I pray that you do not leave the world, we are not through with beating you up with our insanity. The sportsman Claude Hall … basketball’s best friend and radio’s great scorekeeper.”
Mercedes, just FYI, is another lady who, as a child, camped with the Halls at 29 Palms. Her and her sister … father and mother.
Enjoyed the Republican debate. Barbara and I and our son Andy watched it. But, quite frankly, the Jon Stewart finale? Ah, history! College humor! I’ve never understood Stewart. But that’s okay. I’ve never understood Donald Trump either. Maybe Ron Jacobs will explain him to me.
From Chuck Dunaway, courtesy of Don Whittemore, July 9 Radio History - In 1960…77 WABC-AM, New York introduced the WABC MusicChart.