June 9, 2014
All the best to me and yours and may the kindly harbor in your front yard.
By Claude Hall
Jerry Wexler was a genius. We had/have many in the record and radio industries. Clive Davis used to brag about being Mensa, the group that allows only high-IQ people to be “members.” Yet, I knew several people that I thought were just as bright or brighter. None, however, needed any membership card to prove it. Some of us, indeed, have always been very audacious; we knew we were fairly bright and didn’t need to brag about it. That would have been a bit too ostentatious. Jerry Wexler, who worked at Billboard before his Atlantic Record days, could be very erudite … or he could speak in the gutter. However, he read books that only the intellectual reads. As long as I knew him, he seemed to be consumed with knowing. Everything! He was the only person to mention “North Towards Home” by Willie Morris to me. Willie mentioned the old Scotsman in the book. It wasn’t much of a book and probably that was it’s only claim to glory and a poor glory at that. But the time Paul Ackerman and I were driven over to Jerry’s house in Miami by Joe Galkin, Jerry was reading a heavy tome. Great story: Jerry once mentioned that if Neil Bogart would pay him the $200 he owed, he’d tell him how to spell Buddah. For those who might not be privy to the knowledge, Neil’s record label was Buddah Records.
I heard time and time again that John Hammond was also a genius and it’s well known that he was deep when it came to talent … when it came to producing that talent. I was told this more than once by Paul Ackerman, then music editor of Billboard. George Martin, the producer, always impressed me as being of exceptional brilliance when it came to talent. His work with the Beatles will likely be remembered for many years to come. By me and by you and by the world. Martin was without question a musical genius. The difference between “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Yesterday” is a musical world. You probably know of several others in music who were brilliant.
In radio, though I never met Todd Storz, I talked about him with many people that knew him personally and I knew Gordon McLendon personally and Bill Stewart personally. These were the Great Three when it comes to the Top 40 format. I believe that all three were extremely bright, but at this point I have trouble granting them exceptional intelligence. To some extent, they appear to have followed their gut. And the greenback was without question their carrot on a pole. Geniuses? Close, but no banana.
Right after this trio, however, I believe that radio had/has several geniuses. First, Chuck Blore. I don’t know his actual IQ. Not necessary from my viewpoint. Just to be around Chuck is to bask in a special light and I have been and still am extremely grateful to know him. And then George Wilson, who constantly denied that he was exceptionally intelligent, but time and time again, from my observation, was a caring, knowing human being who had his heroes, i.e., Chuck Blore and Don Burdon, and always thought things through and was one of radio’s greatest winners in the Top 40 era. Ron Jacobs is a genius. Sometime troublesome, but in his heyday there were few peers; his work with KHJ in Los Angeles, “American Top 40,” and “The History of Rock and Roll” merits him a pedestal. L. David Moorhead was bright, but not bright enough. I have to judge him harshly even though he was my closest friend. Jack McCoy? Maybe. Though “The Last Contest” was mind-blowing and audience-booming, he wasn’t around long enough for full judgment. Buzz Bennett? Victim of a pill. What could have been, we will never know.
Now, radio was/is replete with exceptionally talented people. Gary Owens, Lee Baby Simms, the Magnificent Montague, William B. Williams, Joey Reynolds, Reggie Lavon, Jimmy Rabbitt, Johnny Holliday, Tom Clay, Sandy Beach, Murray the K, B. Mitch Reed, Bob Fass (who once played church bells all night long; I only listened three hours). Many more, of course, were talented. Geniuses? Hard to say. And we had many great program directors who were very good and often very bright. I especially liked George Burns and Scott Muni. Unsung, but good, were men such as Hal Smith and Bill Hennes.
Why did radio attract such very talented people? Luck? Perhaps. But radio and music seemed to draw the talented if not, sometimes, the also zany. This includes the musicians and singers, too. And many of these at least bordered on the genius level. I love the work now of Raul Malo, Linda Ronstadt, Tom Russell, Guy Clark, Eliza Gilkyson, Little Feat, and Emmylou Harris. And I will always love Johnny Cash. When Columbia Records let him go I thought: “What dummies!”
We have been lucky, you and I, to have participated at whatever level. What a great, glorious business – music and radio.
An amazing man, Jack Gale. Veteran award-winning radio personality, veteran record producer and music executive of Playback Records. And his latest project – a CD featuring Jody Lynn – is a pleasant, charming, and downright entertaining country music CD. Miss Lynn harks back to the day when songs mattered. When they spoke about love and heartache. When the tears were there. And the heart. Lord, but they’re going to be dancing in the honky tonks to “Gone for Good.” And women will love “I Want a Love Like That” on the radio in the mornings. You’ll enjoy “Love Don’t Even Know My Name.” I especially liked the title tune “The World’s Out Dancin’.” My compliments, Miss Lynn. And great on you, Jack!
Don Whittemore: “Thanks for the extra midweek edition. Except for the reality of people passing ... very warm emotional flow from so many we do and don't know. And after their tales are told I can feel the kindred ties that we all share. A lotta really different beings loving and living their lives just like me -- you are the spark, our friend Claude.”
Bob Fead: “Thank you everyday … memories.”
Russ Regan: “Hi, Claude. You are the best. I have great memories of our many get togethers. You haven’t lost a step. The music business needs a
hero to tell our story and I nominate you. Thank you for being you. Stay well. Much love.”
Bob Sherwood: Kindly Ol’ Uncle Claude … a tardy thank you for your kind words in Claude’s Commentary 13. I’m hoping for a return trip home (San Francisco) in the near future and will try and reach you for a 3-hour lunch (with preferred quality beverages) and an intense discussion of Roy Orbison. I predict a stand-off. We’ll agree that ‘Pretty Woman’ is one of the great R ‘n R records of the 60s (God knows I played it enough when I was on-air !) but we may fall short in support of my contention that Roy’s gorgeous voice and his palpable emotion made ‘Cryin’ not a major hit but an absolute classic of the genre. If one truly focuses on ‘Cryin’ and doesn’t feel some mist in the eyes or a momentary gulp in the gullet, one has never seriously loved and lost. Or, that someone needs to immediately call EMS as there’s no longer a heartbeat. We can finish lunch with a spirited discussion on ‘Desert Island Discs’. More on that to follow. In our follow-up lunch (or dinner) we can discuss your point about the truly legendary George Wilson and his spot-on view that songs were hits for particular markets. When I was doing music at KROY, before my weekly meeting with PD Johnny Hyde on what we’d add, drop, increase or decrease in rotation, I’d make damn sure I found out what certain programmers in markets with strikingly similar demographics and/or taste in music were doing with records. Either from the individual, a close associate or Bill Gavin. They were first and foremost George Wilson at WOKY, Gary Taylor at KJR, Bryan McIntyre at WCOL and (apologies for my mind-block) whomsoever was programming KRIZ in Phoenix at the time. I don’t think it was CVD. We trusted our ears first, our on-air needs, then what was happening in those markets similar to ours and only then did we start to absorb third-party information.”
My memory, too, is somewhat out in leftfield, but the name I most associate with KRIZ, Phoenix, is Pat McMahon and one of the Johnny Rabbits (Don Pietromonico, who was also a former Little Beaver for, I think, Red Ryder in the movies). I always liked Pat. He programmed the station during its greatest day, as I recall. Good man.
Timmy Manocheo, California: “Claude, I will always remember your thoughtful introduction of me to Bill Young. He was very anxious to get his book out and needed a proofreader/pre-editor. And your referencing me, an ‘out of the blue’ occurrence, seemed to help finalize Bill's book ‘Dead Air - The rise & demise of music radio’. A great, historical piece of well-written lit, if'n ever I do say so myself. Thanx again, Claude, Your California Compadre.”
Bill Taylor; “The reference to Capt. Humble in New Orleans brought to mind this story. Hugh Dillard Capt. Humble was the only one of the WNOE jocks to meet the Beatles. The story is: The plane the Beatles came in on was to land at New Orleans Lake Front Airport. However the pilot did not show the updates in his charts and decided on Moisant in Kenner. The word got out that they were going to land there and the teeny bops went nuts. It was a Sunday night and Hugh got to the airport and got trapped with the Beatles and wound up riding in the limo with them to the motel. When they arrived at the motel they got into the building only to be met with screaming girls charging down the hall. The only available open door was a janitor’s closet and that's where Capt. Humble and the Beatles waited for security to save them. The rest if us only saw the Beatles when they came down the hall to accept the key to the city. Paul had an earache
and Ann Elliot, the PD's wife, looked after him. She was the only one to really talk to them. So Capt. Humble had an exclusive.”
Great tale, Bill!
Mike Borchetta sent me a song called “California Chrome – Pre Race” by Tommy Roe. Cute tune, Tommy! There was, of course, a sequel, but the horse California Chrome didn’t win the Belmont. Oh, well … “Sweet Pea” was a much cuter tune, Tommy. Basically, though, it does this old heart good to see you’re still around, Tommy, and evidently productive.
Marlin Taylor: “Happy to have been added to your mailing list after all these years. As I noted elsewhere, I hadn't heard your name in so long ... obviously I don't travel in the right circles! Were you involved in the Hitmakers or Pulse of Broadcasting publications of the mid-80s? I have a copy of Hitmakers interview with me ... which I have no recollection of doing + the article about WJIB Boston printed in Pulse in late 1987/early 88. After being mostly out of the business for the 1990s, I joined Lee Abrams and XM Radio in late 2000 to create the 1940s/Big Band channel and have been programming my heritage Easy Listening format since 2002, when the subscribers demanded the format be added. Am still with Sirius XM on a part-time basis handling this one format/channel, having dropped all other duties over the past couple of years. Even with age 79 just ahead, I can't just walk away from the industry that I've loved and been involved in for nearly 60 years. Hope all is well with you. So nice to see that you are still connected and writing. I presume you live in Southern Cal, right?”
In the 80s, Marlin, I was working on a master’s degree and studying with the legendary Bill Randle, an amazing, amazing man. I’ve written about those experiences in this column … will have to reprise them one of these days. Then, for the next six — plus years, I was a college professor. I spoke of geniuses above. Bill Randle was, without question, a genius … probably the most brilliant person I’ve ever met. I rather suspect that Jim LaBarbara would say the same.
Bit of history: The term “Easy Listening” was conceived in a staff meeting at Billboard magazine. I came up with the term “Progressive Rock” as an alternative to the term “Underground” and probably helped set up the first time buys that weren’t from the record industry … in this particular case, for blue jeans.
Morris Diamond: “Burt Sherwood sure knows how to make a guy feel good ... listing me as a ‘mentor’ among super promo domos like Don Graham and Frank Mancini. Burt, I don’t know if this happened when you were at WMCA – us record pluggers would pop in to contact super announcer Andre Baruch and his wife, vocalist Bea Wain, who were riding herd in the morning and we’d pitch our wares. One morning, there was a new kid plugging a record. He asked Andre if he had a chance to hear the record he brought up a few days prior and if so, did he like it. Andre replied that he had in fact listened to it and didn’t feel it was for their show. The kid: ‘Mr. Baruch, if I gave you $10, would that be ok?’. Andre put his hand on the kid’s shoulder & replied ‘Son, I don’t clear my throat for $10’. Them were the days.
"To Roger Carroll: the first of the LA DJs to play my Jose Jiminez album ... actually, the first one I nailed to play the LP was Dan Sorkin in Chicago. When I moved to Chicago a year or so later, Dan and I became good friends ... as a matter of fact, when I remarried in Chicago, Dan was able to get me an apartment in the same lake-front high rise that he was living in. But getting back to Bill Dana ... he did very well before and after his success with MY NAME JOSE JIMINEZ not only as a performer, but also as a comedy writer for many of those that had their own TV shows like Don Adams, Don Knotts and Louis Nye aside from his own personal appearances. I speak to Bill fairly often ... he now lives in Nashville and seems very content with life.”
Danny Davis, regarding his spelling in a previous Commentary: “$o long as it's read! I've been livin' with the knowledge I was communicating with some semblance of what inspires that book by Funk and Wagnalls! Obviously I've been misled! The ol' 'band boy', Moishe Diamond, newly of the literary world's purveyor of gifted lingo, advises me of utilizing 'strange language'! I wasn't aware, honestly, but you can betcha' I will convey, with some haste, to the Professor at Princeton, now mentoring me and my 'slow-to-finish-tome!’ It'll be hard to change direction from the stylings of Damon Runyon, to the captivating nuances of one creative schlepper! But I will give-it-a-go! Hey, at the Thursday lunch, Mr. Master of the Metaphors, usually is first up with the $pecial! Moi$he mu$t know $omethin!”
Doc Devon has a new article out that I think you’d like. http://irom.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/qa-arturo-sandoval-at-the-playboy-jazz-festival/
Great old film: “Fiesta.” It was on television a few days ago and I taped it. I hadn’t seen this film in something like 50 years. But the music is sensational, including a “live” version of one of my favorite songs, “La Bamba.” Ricardo Montalban on guitar and then dancing on “La Bamba.” 1947 film. The theme song, a classical piece, is magnificent, but I don’t know the name of it. I just love “La Bamba.” I once had more then 30 different versions on reel-to-reel. All gone now, including my TEAC tape deck. One night, I caught Johnny Rivers at the Copa in Manhattan. He was filling in for the just-late Sam Cooke. Rivers did about 45 minutes of “La Bamba.” Easy to do. The song has countless verses. And these have been the subject of academic study, by the way. “La Bamba.” Just FYI, Rivers invited Barbara and me to dinner at his home one night after Billboard moved its headquarters to Los Angeles. I don’t remember the dinner, but I do remember he had a magnificent front door to his home. Great on you, Johnny Rivers! Great door!
Dex Allen: Claude ... I read your blogs on occasion and I have a question. Why is there such constant reference to Lee Baby Simms? I worked a year or so with Lee at KCBQ San Diego in 1968 ... and have never heard of any later career growth for him ... I can only assume he is a favorite of yours or?? ... no intent to be critical but aren't there other people you could recognize occasionally? I remember Lee as a good jock ... but am not aware of his further success after 1968 ... just once in awhile lets hear about other people ... not pushing for any personal recognition, Claude ... my career speaks for itself ... no agenda here ... I hope you accept this in the objective light that is intended.”
To be frank, Dex, Lee Baby Simms doesn’t write for print. He has in the past turned down requests for articles about himself. I cull an occasional item written by him intended just for the Three Mesquiteers (Lee Baby Simms, Woody Roberts, Bob Weisbuch, and, hopefully, me). Lee so far hasn’t objected to my filching of his creative efforts. He sits up there on his hilltop above the San Francisco Bay, grows tomatoes, drinks Anchor Steam Beer, and listens to music. And takes his daughter and grand daughter out to dinner when they come to visit. Just FYI, I print most of what is sent to me – by anyone -- unless it’s too self-serving or vicious. Claude’s Commentary exists only because guys help me out with material; I doubt that I have anything to gain personally nor prove and I’m too old to seek stories anyway these days. My “reporting” days have faded away. This is just a hobby that I hope someone else will take over one of these days (and I already have that person in mind … if and when they wish). Just FYI, I enjoy featuring stuff in Claude’s Commentary written by others. Especially tales of music and radio that I feel belong somewhat “in the history books.” One more thing. I like the stuff I print by Lee Baby Simms. He is truly a favorite of mine. I’m for more Lee Baby Simms! He’s what makes me keep on ticking. Woody, too! Morris and Don, too! And Danny Davis. All of you!
Woody Roberts, amidst the quails outside Austin, TX: “Claude, I must have missed a Commentary. Last one I can find is 11 and Bobby Ocean is just plugging his site. Politics? For me ... I like Gerald Celente's phrase ‘political atheist’. As I've told Dr. Bob Weisbuch, I am a just freedom loving libertarian-communist at heart. I did notice you mention Castro for VP. He is definitely a promotable product for the DNC as is his twin brother. They would for fun substitute at Council meetings and no one would notice. I recall their firebrand mama early '70 and I editorially supported many of her causes in SA politics. She never married and even today she detests what the Alamo stands for. The boys know not to say anything negative about the shrine of Texas liberty but I notice the Mayor never showed up for Alamo ceremonies.
“My enthusiasm was high when he took office and he talked about education and a future plan. All said and done, just another pro-politician like Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc. To complete his goals he found enough money to fund a major bond vote, taking the city further into debt -- ‘we can afford it’ -- and raising city sales tax. Not a very imaginative way to fund his projects. His deal with HemisFair Park was to make it into a mixed-use real estate development instead of a grand central city park on the 50 open acres. He, of course, promised the SA voters this year if reelected he would finish his term as mayor and not head off to national. I have spoken personally to him three times since he became mayor and with his two top aids, very smooth and efficient organization for a local politician. Will I vote for him for pres? Sure. He's from Texas and I've learned having a pres from your state is good for the local media business.
“Otherwise, I've decided the Republicans and Democrats and their appointed DC department heads are a big cause of our problems in USA today so likely I won't vote for pres, just the locals. I went all out for Obama in 2008 and that was the last straw. What a let down from all those wonderful populist campaign promises. Oh well, I shouldn't have been surprised that he was just a horse of a different color.
“I try not to get upset that our paid representatives are spending so much time and money on Syria and the Ukraine and Egypt and the Sudan but not on Detroit, East St. Louis, the California/Texas drought and the rebuilding our nation's infrastructure. So please, Claude: send me more stories to take my mind of the state of the union, I enjoy your writing.”
Woody Roberts sent The Three Mesquiteers” a link to a story whereby some people were objecting to gringos eating their tacos. This upset me. I was raised on Mexican food and wasn’t comfortable in Manhattan until I found the Mexican Gardens at 137 Waverly Place. But I wasn’t as offend as much as Lee Baby Simms. And this is too good not to print.
Lee Baby Simms, overlooking the bay in San Francisco from his hilltop: “Woody, you sent me the link to an article to alert me to the fact that the Latinos are offended. Indeed? One thinks that they would be so proud of the great strides that their ethnic group has made in the last few decades to be so concerned about some Coed eating a Taco. I remember not too long ago, they were referred to as 'Greasy Mexicans' … especially by you boys in Texas. These days they are not called 'Greasy Latinos'. (Or are they? By you boys in Texas?) Some people don`t know when they are well off. And getting better.
“Each Man and Woman has my blessing when they celebrate their uniqueness but when they tell me that I am 'appropriating their culture' when I eat a taco ... I DRAW THE LINE!
“What's next? A wonderful lunch of beans and rice and enchiladas, a margarita or two down by the River Walk on a pretty day ... forbidden? To Texans and ... ‘The White Devils! They are eating our recipes’. So silly.
“I know a little bit about prejudice. When I was at KISQ (an R&B station) here in The City, I was the only white man on the staff. Just by being my own soulful self, and without trying at all, I out-blacked most of the blacks. And most of the blacks didn`t like it. I was accused more than once of being 'a wanna be’. It was said that I was trying to 'appropriate their culture’. Trying to be black! I did not understand why they thought that I wanted to be what they themselves didn`t really want to be. A BLACK PERSON. The most maligned people on Earth!
“Of course they didn`t really mean that. They may not have known it but what they really meant was that I was eating their 'Tacos' and that was not allowed. What they really wanted was for a black man to have my position. No collard greens and cornbread for you White Boy! That's just The Way of the World and the people who live on it. It will never change. Never!
“I`m going to have a little Dim Sum for lunch today. I hope that the Chinese folks don`t call me to complain. It would not do them any good anyway, cause, you see, I don`t have a complaint department. Withakiss … for every one.”
LEST WE FORGET
Bill Gavin, Paul Ackerman, Bill Gallagher, Sam Phillips,
Eddie Hill, Bill Mouzis, Jay Blackburn, Tess Russell,
Robert W. Morgan, Don Sherwood, Gertie Katzman,
Scott Muni, Reggie Lavon, Fat Daddy