June 23, 2014
By Claude Hall
Everyone makes mistakes and I’ve made quite a few in my life. Thank God for luck. Or just God. Saved me from many a boo-boo.
One of my biggest mistakes in my Billboard days was in not interviewing Ruth Meyer. My excuse? I just didn’t know enough radio at the time. She was program director of WMCA and I had already learned respect for her and the personalities on the Top 40 radio station which was a much better station than WABC at the time and Rick Sklar, program director of WABC, knew it. I think I’d interviewed WMCA’s Dan Daniels … probably on the phone. And WMCA’s evening jock Gary Stevens. Like when he persuaded the cleaning maid to let him into the office of the general manager and read his memos so he knew when he was going to get fired and was able to resign instead and go cool off in France. Good ol’ Gary. He was a wildtracker on the air and the use of wild tracks was slowly disappearing. Not with Jack Gale, of course, at WAYS. Jack was king of wild tracks. He used them and his audience ate them up long after most radio personalities coast-to-coast had sighed and said “No mas.” George Wilson, bless ‘em, used some of Jack’s wild tracks to get his first job in radio. He was never ashamed of it. He named Jack Gale godfather of two of his children.
Ruth Meyer worked for Todd Storz in Kansas City. She knew radio, thus, from the proverbial horse’s mouth and I should have taken advantage of all of that knowledge and I didn’t and I’ve regretted that mistake now for more than fifty years. You see, almost everything I know is because of who I know. Or, as is the case increasingly: Who I used to know. Anyway, Burt Sherwood, bless ‘em, stayed in touch with Ruth long after she’d returned to Kansas City and developed short-term memory loss.
And I wish I’d interviewed Johnny Bond, the singer/songwriter/actor. He worked with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and others and was fundamental in their escape from Oklahoma. I hear “Sick, Sober and Sorry” and I think of Johnny Bond. Same with the song “Cimarron.” One of my kids played with one of Bond’s kids or his grandson. I had opportunity. I’d interviewed such as Gene Autry and Jimmy Wakely. I interviewed Bob Nolan. Tim Spencer, too. And Burl Ives. Tommy Thomas, who owned the Palomino in the valley, and told tales of when Lankersheim was a dirt road and cowboys taking a break rode up and tied their horses to the rail outside; once Lash LaRue rode his horse into the Palomino and performed his whip act without anyone asking. Others. Tennessee Ernie Ford was handy, as were several others. And I knew Cliffie Stone, once a country disc jockey who became manager of Tennessee Ernie Ford until the day Ford walked in and told him he had enough money to go fishing the rest of his life. I helped Cliffie a little bit when he produced the last LP by the Sons of the Pioneers. Great fun! The possibility of doing a book about the singing cowboys of the movies was always there and I didn’t take advantage of it. I could have done it. I should have done it.
One of the men I should have interviewed for the book “This Business of Radio Programming” was Bill Taylor. He had moved to the Los Angeles area in the 70s to be near his children. He was in my office many times. It’s just that I didn’t know much about him in those days. He was on the phone several times, mostly in regards to a game he developed and syndicated to country music radio stations. Before he died, George Wilson and wife Jackie were by the house several times – I think George considered the Hall House a way station -- and several times when he was talking about him and Lee Baby Simms in New Orleans, Lee’s only programming job, he mentioned Bill Taylor. These discussions led to a short story about their radio experiences that I wrote for the eBook “Radio Wars.” The discussions were usually about Bill Taylor fixing the engineering at the radio station or Bill Taylor trading out something for the radio station. Little things that George dropped in conversation, but which rang old proverbial bell. After a while, I saw a pretty good picture of Bill – better than I’d ever seen before – and realized that Bill Taylor had been extremely instrumental in early Top 40 radio. Truly an unsung hero. Oh, George talked about Lee Baby Simms, too. He was extremely proud of Lee. This is probably one of the reasons that I, too, became pleased and proud to know Lee Baby Simms. And proud to know Bill Taylor, too.
Songwriter Gerry Goffin, partner with Carole King of some of the world’s greatest hits of the 60s and 70s, died at his home in Los Angeles Thursday, June 19. He was 75. Among the hits he wrote or helped write were “Take Good Care of My Baby” by Bobby Vee, “Up on the Roof,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman.” He leaves a wife Michelle and five children. We come, we write, we go.
Ed Salamon writes to let me know Nick Cenci has passed on. Two of the biggest hitmakers of Pittsburgh in the 1960s were Lou Christie and the Vogues. The man behind both was Nick Cenci. We come, we manage, we go.
Listening to “Spanish Key” by Miles Davis from his “Bitches Brew” CD. Weirdly harmonic. You can’t think when you’re listening to this 17:35-minute jazz masterpiece. You have to pay attention. It would be even better with a couple of Anchor Steams. Unfortunately, I gave up drinking more then 34 years ago. Maybe “fortunately,” because if I hadn’t, I certainly wouldn’t be around today to hear this. What great music, Mr. Davis. My compliments. Wonderful horn. Magnificent percussion. And thank you, too, Jack G. Thayer and Ernie Farrell who convinced me that life was better sober.
Danny Davis: “Whatta' select group of 'music mavens' are still out there, Authorman! The Thursday lunch-bunch has a small case of 'the shorts', ya' know, Claudie, the resort season closes out by May 30, and the snow-birds … (Washingtonians, Oregonians and their 'frail weather' cuzzins!) don't crowd the traffic lanes until next 'tishabuv'! A member of the tribe will translate that for you! Along with our area, I hear about lunches, gatherings and a whole mess of goodwill being circulated by way of I-friends! (Can I get away with that useage, ol' friend?) Tom Kennedy in Philly says the 'soiree', recently held at the Sagebrush Cantina (usually the luncheon 'meet' for Hulk Hogan and his 'posse') featured Pat Pipolo AND Russ Regan and a whole lotta' guys, even Saint Gramcracker wouldn't recognize! But, you should pay homage to Jack Roberts, Authorman. Not only did he provide the resuscitation of a morgue-bound industry, but made it easier for your 'obvious well noted reputation' and 'English usage, to honor the 'legacy' Jack insisted on! Many thanks to 'every Hall' in 'the grandest city of them all! DD A/K/A 'Gamblin' Man'!
“Answering Mel Phillips, also in the unopposed Top Ten 'Mench-um'! First, Mel, ‘1/2 ifes on a baby’ was a Red Schwartz promo line, that took him straight from radio promotion, particularly when uttered to the likes of Gertie Katzman or Bertha Porter, to the best Chevy sales man in Philly! My own intonations would havta' be ‘Make the little Jew, heppe'! … or lookin' for chart position ‘Twenty two for the little Jew’ … (also works well at the crap table!) … promised and didn't get to air … ’Son-of-a-bitch, turned left on me!’ Same SOB, same promise … ‘Made a wide turn on me’! …. promised goodness from the promo guy … ‘You're my horse, if you never win a race’! Best I can think of, Mel! (Claude runs a clean sheet!)”
Later from Danny: “If only I had the words I think I have, Mr. Hall … When I was privileged to be a 'mike man' at WHAT, my gospel show featured a tune (I recollect) 'Ain't no friend, like the friend I have in Jesus'! Your kind note, today, grabbed me in the same way, Authorman! And if I have been hesitant, or lazy, or procrastinating about 'my book', your 'note' kicked me right in the ass! Truth is absolutely abundant, when I write that Danny Dummy actually has a bulk of the book written, but has been impeded by the stupidest of mistakes! While I was being mentored by the prof at Princeton, I failed to number the pages! Marie, the cleanest caretaker in the Coachella valley, and purveyor of the ever-ready vacuum cleaner, insisted I remove those 'piled-up-high-sheets-of-a-best-seller'! (Needless to write on from this point, Claude!) The move, the daily turn of positioning, and all other manner of 'what can happen to those completed 'pearls' of a dynamite career, now must be collated by a dummy, who until your written admonition, was just too frustrated to go through the ordeal! Not so, from this date on! I promise you, Marie and myself, to put the 'piled paper pearls' in proper order, and pursue, what has to be, that private room at B of A, where they count those pound$ of per$onal tale$! (Tough making that last 'type', Authorman!) I will continue this diatribe at another time!”
Just FYI, Danny has mentioned “a book” several times in notes. Thinking back about Mickey Addy’s “missing” book, I suggested Danny give a copy on CD to his wife Marie … or send a copy to me. For posterity. Now? Huge questionmark. Best recommendation is to get the pages in order, Xerox a couple of copies for safety. Get someone to scan them onto CD (there’s a program that will do this). I will always wonder what Mickey Addy wrote.
Don Whittemore mentioned in a note that he almost made Mensa. I pointed out to him that the old cliché “birds of a feather…” was precisely true and he hung around people such as Chuck Blore, Don Graham and some other intelligent people. And I mentioned an experience I had when I went for my master’s. He replied: “Claude, your humour (English version) is right up and down my alley. You showed those guys and only missed one test. Plus you got your master's besides. You're right about hanging around bright people. I advise new hires at Dandy Don's only smart people can work here. They either stick or slide away soon enough. Mensa is okay, but I get more laffs and satisfaction knowing I'm smarter in my chosen areas and not so smart in algebra and higher math to be in the Mensa Society as Clive. Our health must be fine or we'd
be with Gerry Goffin tonight. I saw him on a TV special with his ex wife, by then, and he remarked after ‘Boardwalk’ was published he never had to work a day in his life again. I still revel in our possibilities of living a good or better life if you catch the brass ring. Now, there's an old timer for your reminiscing slogans. Bye Barbara and Claude.”
Joey Reynolds wrote a week or so ago about the Ken Robertts memorial at the Friars in New York City: “Ken was a quiet man, understated and an honest regular guy.
He sold KROQ to Mel Karmazin for $80 million and did not want to go to the closing cause he did not like Mel, but Mel pushed for him to be there. Ken said what are you going to use for towers. He said what do yo’nope’. That cost Mel another 2 million.
“Ken, Gary Smith, producer of the Academy Awards, and Michael King (King World) raised the money for the defense of President Bill Clinton's indiscretion with Santa Monica (Lewinsky). Ken lived sumptuously in the Robert Taylor estate where many friends going through divorce wound up in one of the guest houses, they were sometimes more popular than the Beverly Hills Hotel bungalows,
“Ken managed the Jersey Boys from the beginning with his partner Pete Bennett who still handles Frankie Valli. The radio and records roost are deep with Ken, he also managed Sly Stone until he made a financial killing combining 2 radio stations on the same frequency up the road from each other in Malibu at 103.5 FM. The money was borrowed from the Bank of Finland … when the bank went under the loan never had to be satisfied. He was lucky that way, but not always. Ken had a partnership with Kirk Kerkorian and to '07 they marginalized 100 million on the market and lost. Kerkorian built the MGM in Vegas and I believe Danny Davis underwrote the cost of it. The West Coast guys and gals remember Ken from Matteo's, his long time childhood friend? Matty was also from Hoboken, NJ.
“Ken and his mom were neighbors and friends with Frank Sinatra's mother who was a midwife and an abortionist, which is probably the reason Frank didn't know whether he was coming or going. Our boy Ken was an East Coast guy who lived also in the Trump Towers on Fifth Avenue and was a regular at the Friars around the corner from his home. Unfortunately his diet consisted of nothing but French fries and pizza, once In a while ravioli from Patsy's. It was not uncommon for Ken to have dinner at a 5-star restaurant and order the fries. Made the chefs crazy.
“We were great pals -- Ken, the late great Sid Bernstein , and myself. Believe me when I tell you he was impressed by the fact that I was 40 years sober, my daughter is growing medical marijuana and I never went back to smoking weed. I told him it just gave me the munchies and would get fat from the fries and pizza. By the way, Don King was also a good friend, he was very generous and financed Sid' s book. Here are some photos from the celebration, his friends were ordinary and big shots, it made no difference to Ken.”
My apology for not running this sooner, Joey. Just one of those things. I wish I could run the pictures, but right now they’re sort of a hassle to do. I appreciate them, though, and will keep them on file. Love you, Joey! My best to your kids.
Jim Ramsburg publishes a blog about old radio. “This past weekend, however, was a bit different - it was posted from Fairview Southdale Hospital in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina. Patty and I came north for our grandson's high school graduation. The weeklong getaway we had planned will turn out to be three weeks of heart surgery and recovery. The prognosis is good and my surgeon is considered tops in his field in Minnesota. If he's as good in the operating room as he is in his field in Minnesota, I've got nothing to worry about. (Rimshot and thank you, Ed Wynn). So, the beat goes on - pun intended. I'll keep writing and inviting your comments. As always, it you have any friends interested in broadcasting history, please tell them to check out www.jimramsburg.com “
Ed Salamon: “My old country radio friend Don Nelson's comment about Dex Allen mentoring his son, reminded me how Dex was an early mentor of mine as well. In the mid-60s, when Dex was a nighttime DJ at KQV, he would book my high school garage band to play live sets at his record hops (as did fellow KQV DJ Chuck Brinkman - who was Pittsburgh's king of the teens at that time). That was my first exposure to the behind the scenes of radio. Meanwhile subconsciously, I was absorbing KQV PD John Rook's formatics by listening to that station. Dex always had time for me, Chuck and his other old friends even when he was the big deal CEO of Commonwealth Broadcasting.”
Jim Gabbert: “Claude, as we have been moving our offices I keep running across these things. It may be boring to you but somebody should write a book. We broke so many rules in both radio and TV and obviously succeeded! Even in 1986 when I bought KOFY a one-kilowatt daytimer at 1050 (when I sold it to Susquehanna it was 50 KW fulltime!). Today it is KCTC . See the article dated in 1986 about the kilowatt AM that beat it's FM competitor KYA-FM.”
I remarked that I would love to have those old files because the radio business has changed and Jim replied: “Not like it used to. After we sold the company in 1998 I went to work at KGO as a talk show host for 14 years. Then Cumulus ruined one of the top-rated talk stations in the country. For 35 years the station was number one in all 4 books per year in almost all demos which is why Mickey Lukoff, the GM, was inducted into the National Hall of Fame. Cumulus's bankers thought the overhead was too high ... $ 15 million a year, but the gross was $30. Go figure. Than I quit and went over to Clear Channel Newstalk 910. They decided that they did not want phone calls and we had to talk for 3 hours. They failed to understand the psychology of people listening to people. It tanked real fast as have KFI, KFBK, and most of their talk stations. Most stations today are run by investment bankers and do not have a clue. The original Golden Years may have been before TV but far and away the most exciting years were the late 50s, 60s and 70s. The 95 Comm act killed competitive radio!”
We lament together, good buddy!
I made contact with Doc Devon through the late Jack Roberts. For which I’ve been ever grateful. I consider Doc, a professional musician, one of the very best writers on jazz and blues.
Doc Devon writes that he “loves the blog and I cannot thank you enough for including my work. I just got done covering the Playboy ‘Jazz’ Festival at The Bowl. Here are my highlights.”
And later: “The great pianist Horace Silver passed away today. I thought I'd write an appreciation since he was such a big influence on my music.”
When I was young, I knew everything. Now that I am old, I know less. And, sadly, realize that I didn’t know everything when I was younger, I only thought that I did. Well, I’m not really old, I guess. I think I passed “old” some while back.
I had great sport this past week from random messages between the Three Mesquiteers, to wit Bob Weisbuch, Woody Roberts, and Lee Baby Simms. Bob’s remark about a Roman saying gave me a good chuckle. Still laughing, Bob! You’ve been taking humor lessons from Gary Owens, I presume.
Still working on the final edit of the Great American Novel. Up around page 292 at the moment. Huge book. A bit filthy here and there. I’m going to put a price tag of $49.95 on it. People probably won’t understand the purpose of this book and hate me.