July 14, 2014
By Claude Hall
Sam Hale just sent me a copy of a book. I wrote Sam Hale: “‘Rhythm and the Blues’ by Jerry Wexler and David Ritz is an amazing book. I read it just as I read the first book I ever read: ‘Yank in the RAF’ by someone named Cook. I checked this particular book out of the public library in Sonora, TX, when I was 8 or 9 years old and the day or two before it was due, I glanced at the ending. I was hooked. I read it, a few pages at a time, back to front. That was the only time I’ve done that with a book until now. I read the ending of Jerry’s book and then, at random, a few pages here and there before putting the book on the shelf to read later. Then, curious, I took the book and put it on the footstool at my side where several magazines that I wish to read have gathered in a stack.
“A few hours later and I’d read a few more scattered pages. The Miami convention incident I’d heard differently. A couple of days after I got back to New York, Shelby Singleton phoned me. He’d received a phone call in his suite. Someone was coming up to kill him. He told them, ‘You’d better bring a big bullet’. In spite of a couple of friends with him, he was beaten and spent a day in the hospital. That’s what I remember him telling me. He said Jerry Wexler was selected by the black power groups as an example. They were going to kill him. The rumor was that Henry Allen, a go-fer for the label, had rescued Jerry and got him out of the state.
“Jerry says a couple of friends got him out of the convention and he hid out in his Miami Beach home for a few days. Paul Ackerman (Jerry named his son after Paul) and I once spent a pleasant afternoon at that place; Joe Galkin drove us over in a huge Mercedes he said he’d just bought from Jerry. In the book, Jerry says Marshal Sehorn, a record producer, was beaten up.
“Stories! I’ve told earlier how Novella Smith, now an evangelist in Memphis, sent me with the ‘script’ for comedian, Dick Gregory, to a hotel on Miami Beach and I got back to the ballroom just in time to see a black power cat in swirling robes go on stage, take over the mike, and announce: ‘If you haven’t done anything wrong, you won’t get hurt’. I’m sitting across the table from a black executive at NBC and his wife, talking. Then Coretta King goes on stage to the same mike and pleads for calm. She says her late husband wouldn’t want anything to happen. The black executive and his wife decide to leave. So did I. With a great number of others. I went back to my room and the next day went back to New York and never knew anything had happened, I swear, until Shelby Singleton phoned me a couple of days later.
“Anyway, I go back earlier in the book. I skip his childhood stuff … I’d read all of that before … I don’t know when or where. I find where he joined Billboard and start from there. He talks about Paul Ackerman, who becomes music editor when Joe Carlton leaves to join a record company. Joe Carlton is the person who launched the column Vox Jox. I’ve read a few of the columns as written by Jerry Wexler, who evidently spent four years with the magazine. All of this is fascinating stuff! I pick up a business card from Jack Gale and use it as a bookmark and read a few pages as the urge hits me. Great book! History. From Jerry’s viewpoint, which is his viewpoint, but that’s okay. He was there. He did this, he did that. I don’t think Jerry would lie to me. I’m also quite positive that Jerry, genius without question, didn’t remember all of this. My compliments to his collaborator David Ritz. Hell of a research job on the facts, David! Great on you! An invaluable source of information!
“Jerry speaks of Aretha Franklin, Bobby Darin, Otis Redding and others, Miami, Muscles Shoals, Memphis, and Great Neck … the history of Atlantic Records … and his view of given hits and non-hits is not necessarily the view of the rest of the world. Jerry loved music. R&b, without question. Vernon Dalhart is the proverbial anomaly here. So is ‘Pistol Packin’ Moma’ (I interviewed Al Dexter once by phone while I was with Billboard; the first time I heard the tune was on a jukebox at the swimming pool in Sonora, TX … a 78 rpm Rockola, no doubt … I was about 9.)
“I am in love with this book, Sam. Before his death, Jerry said he was going to send me all of his books. He never got around to the task.
“Jerry invited me to the Polo Lounge one day. He and his wife were both steaming. This was just about the time he broke up completely with wife Shirley. I later saw the girl, I believe, that Jerry spoke of as having ‘a body that won't quit’. I guess he'd lost his touch by this point. Too much pot. She was young. She wasn't exactly pretty. If she had a body, I didn’t see it. Perhaps Jerry was imaging things.
“I'm nearing the end.
“Thank you, Sam!”
And I received this response from Sam Hale: “It pleases me ‘no end’ that you had this escape to yesteryear as, from your comments to me
in the past, I thought you would. As I think I mentioned to you a long while ago, the eulogy that Jerry spoke at Joe Galkin's memorial service in Joe's hometown of Macon, GA, was the most remarkable I've every experienced. Joe was a very complex man, but with an overriding generous heart that gained him many friends. Jerry's words captured that persona incredibly well. It was simply brilliant, as was Jerry himself. I later asked Jerry for a copy of his remarks and he had not saved them. As you so well know, his remarks about Mr. Ackerman were saved -- and widely appreciated.
“I was doing Saturday nights at WQXI for a while as I could personally select the ‘oldies’ which generated enormous audience ratings. One night, with no pre-planning, Joe Galkin walked in with Otis Redding for a long visit. I'm sure you know that Joe was a catalyst in the connection of Otis and Phil Walden, as well as having played a part in several others'
obtaining recording contracts. In spite of Otis' stardom, when I walked them to that Mercedes of which you wrote, I saw that Otis was acting as Joe's driver! I had first met Joe a few years earlier in Birmingham when he first began as an independent record promoter and had ‘Lavender Blue’ by Sammy Turner. It didn't take much convincing for me to add the record which, as you will remember, quickly became an enormous hit.
“ANOTHER MATTER: As you are a ‘leader of the pack’ of those making efforts to preserve memories of the accomplishments of outstanding radio people, I wanted to ask you to do a big salute to John Long. He has devoted enormous time and talent by originating the GA Radio Hall of Fame and initiated the registration of the TN Radio Hall of Fame, the latter which others have developed into a viable form. John hasn't stopped by gathering and publishing the history of numerous radio professionals but stages an annual awards banquet with outstanding a success. He didn't stop there, either. He has been collecting memorabilia and now has recently completed a museum with this material by negotiating space with the city officials of St. Mary's, GA. It's another fantastic accomplishment.
“John often gives me credit as co-founder which is a huge overstatement. To assist him in the formation I agreed to serve as treasurer and vice president. I was only in this role until it was going strongly. In the meantime, there are other board members who have helped him, but it is John Long who has done the planning and 95% of the work, which continues. I know no ONE who has selflessly done so much to honor and preserve these histories.”
Okay, I finished Jerry’s book. My opinion hasn’t changed. Great book. A valuable sight into the music business. I felt a little sorry for Jerry by the end. The price he paid for success was just too enormous. I enjoyed my time in the radio and music businesses. Made many friends. Didn’t make much money (made better bucks as a college professor), but I had a phenomenal time. I don’t think I would have traded my life, however, for Jerry’s life for any amount of money. Nor a single friend of mine for any of the people Jerry knew and talks about in his book.
As for John Long: Great on you, John!
Woody Roberts, amidst the quails near Austin: “Claude, I only knew Bill Randle as a Cleveland radio legend, never met. Did work with Wes Hopkins who got caught at Westinghouse during payola scandal. Scroll down check video for young Bill's intro for dynamic Elvis performance at his peak.
Lee Baby Simms, a mountaintop above the San Francisco Bay, to the Three Mesquiteers: “Good Day Dear Lads. Here's My Elvis connection. On April 3, 1956, the swivel hipped one appeared on ‘The Milton Berle Show’, live, from the deck of the Aircraft Carrier, USS Hancock, then stationed in San Diego. The Captain at the time of that Mighty Warship was my father in law, Dean Black, and a bigger son of a bitch never lived! He was a Navy Pilot. World War Two. 336 (he said) takeoffs and landings at sea on the deck of a rolling, heaving, tossing aircraft carrier, sometimes in storms, sometimes under fire from the Japanese Suicide Kamikaze (Divine Wind) pilots. All of em` comin` in fast and low, fully loaded with 5,000-pound bombs. One Mission, sink American ships, kill American seamen! Sounds VERY dangerous. Captain Black (later Admiral Black) was a war-time hero, a real one, because of that fact, he was, after the war, given command of The Hancock. Enter Elvis, shaking, rattling and rolling. I can imagine that the Admiral was not amused. But he had to host Milton`s show, good PR for The Navy. After EL`s appearance he was introduced to Captain Black and gave him an autographed picture.
“The autograph, written on the left side, reads: ‘To Captain Black, many thanks Sir. Elvis Presley’. The Captain gave it to his daughter, Celia. When she died it came to me. It hangs on the wall upstairs, I pass by it every night on my way to bed. And that's my Elvis connection.
“I`m feeling good today. The Maters are gangbusters, hundreds of them, hanging heavy on the vines. I`m going to have a few for lunch. You guys comin` over?”
John Long: “Sam Hale mentioned he had told you about the new Georgia Radio Museum. Here is the web address: http://www.grhof.com/GRMHOF.htm.”
Bob “Wilson” Wolfson: “Claude, you're driving me crazy ... Gary Owens, L. David, Ernie Ford, that station in Pasadena, there are many other names ... and then my great, great uncle Sid Bernstein! I never knew him, of course, as he was the generation before my father whose mother’s maiden name was Bernstein (a sister to Sid) ... I can only assume that my father 'Sid' was named after him. As for Ernie Ford ... my cousin was a featured dancer in 1950's movies ... directed the dancers in a Broadway play and danced in a review headed up by Spike Jones (musical depreciation review). He also met Ernie after dancing with a Donald O’Connor Vegas show, who made him choreographer for Ernie’s TV show ... featured him with a 10-minute solo at Xmas time. Somewhere in that group is Mickey Katz (Joel Grey) ... and my mentor, Tom Cafferty, known as 'Cactus' on KXLA radio with an hour show just prior to Ernie’s daily show ... Tom talked as if he was about 70 years old ... Ernie did, too ... that's why Cliffie Stone was surprised to hear Ernie singing in the hallway and put him on the air with Herman's Hermits as background. Mule train was that result and Ernie was on the rise to becoming a country icon and later to employ the cousin of the teenager (me) who used to hang around the station with Tom and talk to the stars who in those days sold their own airtime, paying Loyal King, the owner, whatever he charged for the opportunity! Tom was a best friend from Chicago of yet another cousin as both were vets of WWII. Now David ... we often talked about 'entertainment' and David always looked for jocks that has that little bit extra. David would write 10-second narrations before playing a commercial ... that would end with the first few words from the spot. Usually hilarious! And often amazing. I told you once that I performed David’s last two newscasts on Saturday so he could catch a flight from Omaha to Chicago where he had a CBS shift. That act paid me back over the next 20 years in friendship, a great dinner companion, a great drinking companion and long discussions on trying to entertain the rock audience. He tried to bring me everywhere, just to do the news voicers, etc. And as luck would have it, two weeks after signing a 3-year contract with Cecil Heftel, David offered me a news director position in LA. Later the marriage went sour and David called and said ‘....get down to Austin ... n o w! That produced a remarkable experience. I think we were number one before the next month concluded! David almost had the radio Disney approach put together where i would be like 'big Bob the story teller’ ... I had written two children’s records doing all the voices, as spec but never went any further. David found a young couple with money who were about to enter into buying five stations that David found compatible. Then Dallas fell apart and I returned to Pennsylvania and my growing family of about 35 children, grandchildren, great grandchildren ... and following the stroke, I cannot remember all their names!!!”
I knew Cliffie Stone fairly well. Still have a record that I was supposed to return … but Cliffie died on me. Me and Ken Griffis helped him on what I presume was the last album by the Sons of the Pioneers that Cliffie produced on Granite Records for Sam Trust. He told me that Tennessee Ernie Ford was doing extremely well. Huge on TV. Then one day he told Cliffie that he had enough money to go fishing the rest of his life and that was what he was going to do. Sorry about the memory, Bob. Glad you recalled the stuff above, though! Thanks!
Clark Weber: “I so enjoy going back in radio time to reminisce about the folly and the fortunes of radio past. Your mention of Hal Neal brought back a flood of memories. Hal was running WXYZ sales when his fortunes took him to NYC. I recall that Neal was said to have very sharp elbows and tongue to match plus a low tolerance for disagreement. I witnessed that when WLS GM Ralph Boudin was promoted to ABC New York over Neal, Gene Taylor was made WLS GM and he in turn made me the PD. Those promotions were said to stick in Neal's craw, he was furious and made life difficult for all concerned. Allegedly his fall from ABC grace a few years later was swift and justice was served.”
I thought the best man at ABC was Wally Schwartz and some of his “second louies” were phenomenal, including a man named Alexander. Barbara and I were close to him and his wife for a while. They came out to visit us in Los Angeles. Too, I really liked Wally. He and Tex Ritter had total recall on names and faces. Wally once saw me at a radio meeting in Oklahoma City (I was studying for a master’s at Phillips University in Enid, OK) and yelled and came over to shake my hand … after years and years! Tex once did the same at the Palisades Amusement Park. No wonder both of these men were huge in their fields. Huge!
Burt Sherwood: “It is hard to let ‘sleeping dogs lie’. I see a boatload of misinformation … most all of the people have departed the earth so some of what went on will still never be told. WABC ... Hal Neal was difficult -- to say the least -- to love. Jack G. Thayer tried to get me to talk to him many years later when I was running WMAQ … and rather than do that I left the room ... I will never forget he let me hang out to dry! However, be that as it may, here is what I recall about who was programming WABC. Why do I not hear or see the name of Mike Joseph? He was the consultant who brought in Sam Holman. Rick Sklar was working for Murray the K then at WINS and somehow got into WABC when Sam got out. I am going to alert your blog Claude, to HOA ... I know he will find the last one interesting and if he responds you can put him on your list. Sam Holman and I got reacquainted many years later and became friends. He died as I recall in a hotel room (in Vegas I think) and no one found him for days ... Sam sent me the great Tom Kennedy for our station in New Haven ... who ultimately went to Boston. He was a nice guy and really knew talent ... his terrible ending still shakes me.
“WABC was a programmer’s nightmare when Hal Neal took it over and he got the right guys in there to straighten it ou ... as to the sound ... it sounds like the late Bobby Kanner (chief Eng at WMCA, and good friend) was on a milking chore ... sound was not a problem at WMCA ... it was signal ...we ‘owned‘ Brooklyn, but our signal had no strength beyond the NYC metro and WABC could be heard all up and down the East Coast. I ‘broke’ Bobby Kanner in on my show and we were life-long friends. He died on the West Coast and was an engineer's engineer ... he got that 5kw WMCA signal out further than anyone before him ... and I knew them all. I think he worked for Drake Chenault at the end of his career and life ... not so sure on that. Peace be with them all!
John Rosica: “When I moved to NYC in '61 Mike Joseph was WABC PD and HOA already doing mornings. Sam Holman followed Joseph and Rick was community relations.”
Art Wander: “Reading about the WABC/WMCA competition, I will agree with Claude Hall that the person responsible for the great success of WABC was Rick Sklar. No offense to Sam Holman, who couldn’t fight the suits upstairs, Rick was able to convince Hal Neal to do away with ‘Breakfast Club’, giving 77/WABC the consistency in programming necessary to achieve such success. YET, I wonder what would have happened if the Tisch brothers did not sell WMGM. In 1961, I was hired as program director of WMGM by Art Tolchin, the director of the station. A couple of weeks after my arrival, Tolchin told me that Rick Sklar was available since WINS was going to be sold. He asked my opinion. I quickly suggested hiring him since he knew so much more about the market. I became Tolchin’s assistant and Rick the program director. Rick and I meshed very well and worked together very well in preparing WMGM to go after WMCA and WABC. Naturally, ‘Breakfast Club’ was the vulnerable attack point. We began listing DJs for WMGM. First hire was Bob Lewis (later nights at ABC.) Bob and I used to play chess in my office. Rick scheduled meetings with Bill Meeks of PAMS and we were ready to get Series 18 (sonovox). Then disaster struck. WMGM was being sold to Storer. Art Tolchin gave myself and Rick an iron clad one-year contract but it was known that WMGM would go good music instead of gearing up with Top 40 programming. After WMGM became WHN, Rick wanted to get out of his contract while I was already making plans to go to another market. Rick wound up at WABC and subsequently replaced Sam Holman as program director. Then came the big change, saying: ‘bye bye’ to ‘Breakfast Club’ in favor of programming consistency. The rest is history. Rick and I maintained a closeness through the years until his untimely death. His great kids, Holly and Scott are doing well on the west coast. Finally, Claude, continue these great commentaries. It lets us know that many friends of the great era are still with us. And genius Chuck Blore IS NOT the oldest radio person around. Stay well everyone.” Then: “Claude, I forgot to ask if you would be so kind to put me on the list for your commentaries, I would appreciate it. Thanks much – they are great.”
I wrote Art Wander that I had been emailing Claude’s Commentary to him all along. If you do not receive Commentary, mailed each Monday, please let me know and I’ll try to solve the problem.
Then a note from Burt Sherwood about his personal philosophy: “The things that make you ‘stronger’ take a toll on you ... it is hard to forget … no, let me say impossible. I hear from people who get your weekly all the time, who say they more or less stayed under the ‘radar’ ... which I did for most of my management career ... I let what we did speak for itself. As I told you when I went into a city or town to operate a station the people never knew I was a ‘former’ talent ... sometimes it leaked out, but I was already doing what I loved doing best -- running stations that were totally in the ‘dumper’ and bringing them back to a spot they had never imagined ... unfortunately in those days I made little money ... but made a lot of rich people richer ... so be it. You and I went down separate paths, same result … we love people ... the scars show in early morning and late at night. I can give you more names ... but WE ARE STILL HERE. I followed your moves very carefully over the years, and knew you had a hard life getting back to a good one ... you have a ton of friends out there ... we old guys can attest to that. Be well.”
Danny Davis: “Authorman: Knowing that 'all peoples' ain't alike, but may be interested in what really makes 'em tick! Lemme tout you to a good, variation of what YOU usually would place on the night stand! My category, for a long time, was/and still is, 'hard guys like Morris Levy and 'their compatriots'! When I was 'woikin' for Milt Blackstone and Eddie Fisher, I cultivated the sincere friendship of Sandra Lansky (yes, daughter of the 'gent' who owned your town a while ago! Meyer Lansky!!) She's written a book! You'll like it, I think! Called ‘Daughter of the King’! Best to every Hall in the house!”
Joey Reynolds informed me of the changes at WDRC, Hartford, where he and many other disc jockeys of great renown temporarily hung their Stetsons. Here’s a comment from Lee Baby Simms to the Three Mesquiteers, Robert Weisbuch and Woody Roberts: “And a very good day to you Dr. Bob. I trust that you and your posse are well on this lovely day. I see that you have received Claude`s missive of this morning. Woody sure got it right when he said: ‘an old-fashioned radio blood letting occurred July 5th’. How many times? Let me break out my abacus to see if it can help me count that high. THERE IS NO TENURE IN THE RADIO BUSINESS, MY BOY. The quick and the dead work in the radio business. Dick Robinson was very kind to remember me favorably. Should you speak with him again please give him my best. I think I`ll have a cold one, sit outside on the deck in the Sunshine and Wonder at The Wonder. Wonder how it is that it has been so good to me for so long. I, who has never known ... Tenure. Wak.”
Mel Phillips: “When I first started doing interviews I wanted to impress my interviewee with how much homework I had done on my subject. I learned pretty quickly that the interview is about the subject, not me. The best interview is done by triggering a memory that the interviewee can discuss candidly and then just let them fly. From there you just steer them in the direction that will give you some meat that opens up the personality and raw emotions of the person being interviewed. There are 2 interviews I consider my best: Ronnie Spector & Ellie Greenwich. Ellie was better because I was able to use everything she gave me. Ronnie was so candid that she told me a lot of things (mostly about Phil Spector) that were so personal I couldn't use them for fear of some ear-shattering phone calls from Phil and a possible lawsuit. Phil and I got fairly close and knowing how wired he was I didn't dare risk the wrath of Spector. A lot of the info Ronnie supplied was great and usable, like she & the Ronettes only needing one take on "Walking in the Rain". Ellie Greenwich was just great in supplying the reasoning behind almost all the hits she, Jeff Barry (and sometimes Phil) collaborated on. I did a title memory Q&A with Ellie. I would mention a title and she was off. ‘Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry’ (about falling in love quickly with Jeff at a family Thanksgiving dinner arranged by members of the family). ‘Be My Baby’ (was based on Ellie & Jeff playing, if you be my baby, I'll be your baby silliness). Then there were the nonsense songs (‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’) that were about nothing -- it was just time for another hit single (and just about all of them were.) More interview memories will be coming along soon, including the tough ones.
“Claude, please let everyone know that I have a new URL for Mel Phillips Radio Views: http://melphillipsradioviews.wordpress.com and should anyone want an advance copy of my most current radio view, they can request it by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks. Keep writing and we'll keep reading.”
My compliments, Mel. The interview stuff is priceless!
The 2014 induction celebration for the Texas Radio Hall of Fame will be November 1 at the Hotel Galvez in Galvestion. Admission is $50. There will be a special tribute to Bill Young. Try: Josh@JoshHolstead.com or email@example.com
Barbara used to know a widow lady, now passed on, whose husband was one of the big honchos at Caesar’s Palace. Back in my Billboard days, I interviewed the guy who founded the casino. Kicked out. Accused by the IRS of skimming, as I recall. Don’t remember his name just now. But the old-timers around here are sort of revered. Like minor gods. Mafia or not.