Monday, August 4, 2014
August 4, 2014
Claude’s Commentary No. 23
By Claude Hall
The first music I can recall was “Pop Goes the Weasel” played on one of those now ancient cone record players owned by an aunt and I’ve been in love with music since. I was probably about 4 years old. I don’t remember when I first heard radio – more than likely as a teenager because radio was always out of town -- but I’ve been in love with it since. The position on Billboard magazine was created by Joe Carlton and honed by Jerry Wexler, but it was made for me. However, the major factor with any success that I might have had was the people I met and got to know. Men – and some women – who became friends. Some of these are still around, as I am still around, and I’m grateful for that. Many have been in my home and I have been in theirs. Some of the most creative, intelligent, witty, gregarious people who ever existed lived and fought in radio circa 1940-1980. In my opinion. One of these, without question, is Lee Baby Simms. Not too long after the convention in San Francisco, he appeared in my office at 9000 Sunset in Los Angeles and asked if I had another beer mug leftover from San Francisco. I said, “Sure,” and handed him one from a box under my desk. In exchange for the gift, Lee Baby pulled out a tire gage and handed it to me. What a great gift!
Lee Baby Simms, from a hilltop above the bay in San Francisco where he grows tomatoes, to the Three Mesquiteers, Woody Roberts, Bob Weisbuch, and me. Woody had just emailed us a story about a swarm of killer bees attacking a Texas man with 3,000 stings (ABC News). Just FYI, it wasn’t Woody that was bee bitten. And, incidentally, Lee Baby has been waging a “campaign” to prevent Dr. Bob and wife Candy from moving to Texas from New Jersey. I also suppose I should explain that the “Three Mesquiteers” was a Saturday serial usually shown in correlation to a western movie. It featured John Wayne and, I think, Ray Corrigan, and someone else.
“Attacked by killer bees, Woody? You`re lucky you`re still alive. That kind of thing happens alllll the time in Texas. I read this week that a man in Wichita Falls just this week had been bitten more than 1,000 times by the killer bees. He lived. So did you. Let the rejoicing continue. I lived there and I really don`t know why anyone wants to live in Texas. It`s a harsh, harsh land, unforgiving and cruel. Malice and malevolence every step of the way! Hot as a bitch in Summer, cold as a son of a bitch in Winter. Full of extremely dangerous creatures (many of the people included) that wish you no good will. Wish nothing more than that you should be gone from there. One way or another. You either leave or they try to kill you. And often times they do. You`re lucky. What is it about that godforsaken place that enthralls you boys so? Claude is always reminiscing nostalgically about Texas. Dr. Bob has been considering a move to Texas. You live in Texas. WTF? Why, why, why? I just don`t get it.
“Oh wait! I just got it. Y`all feel that y`all must do penance for all of y`alls real or imagined past sins. Let them go, Dear Ones. They are The River. This is The Sea. Find Far West on your compass. Follow it to the last land on The Continent. Set Your Sails. The Wind is Freshening. The Tide is Turning. The Time is now. Haul up the anchor with all its chains. California in all its beauty and benevolence will welcome you. You will feel safe here (I only feel safe here). Come here to California. Come here to me! Have a Tomato!
“Claude, a really outstanding Commentary this week. I love hearing all about it from all The Old Guys (Our Guys). We guys. Morris Diamond is the real deal isn`t he? (I never had the pleasure of meeting him). He is a great favorite. I love his stories. Morris has been around, to put it mildly. Jay Lawrence checked in this week and Mel Phillips. Art Wander, too. Good stuff from all. Our Guys.
“As did CLARK WEBER. Clark Weber! Wow! Man, you don`t know about me and Clark Weber .... so let me tell you. I love Clark Weber ... I have for fifty years (never met him either). Clark is one of my boyhood heroes. I remember laying in my bed late at night, in Charleston, SC, (I was 15 or 16 years old) in the wee small hours listening to 'East of Midnight’, transistor radio under my pillow, playing low, listening to Clark booming in from a thousand miles, more? away on WLS. One night, all of a sudden, Clark, for some reason (between records) started to tell me about the contents of his wallet. How much money he had in it, his driver’s license information, his union card (thank God for AFTRA, I would be in trouble without my little AFTRA pension), pictures of his wife, his children, some phone numbers on a piece of paper. Other things. He took his time (some minutes) to tell me. This on a Top forty station! I was mesmerized. I had liked him before but when he told me what he had in his wallet ... then was when I became his devotee. In subsequent years when I was on the air and someone had the temerity to tell me that I talked too much, I would remember what Clark told me that he had in his wallet, and how much time it took him to tell me, and I would dismiss their criticism with a wave of my hand. I knew that I was in good company. When you chat with Clark again. Please tell him I said, ‘Thank you, Clark. A minute or two of your life, changed forever the rest of mine. Your Fan’. Lee Baby."
“Now y`all, that will do for the moment. I hear little voices calling my name … ‘Lee Baby, Lee Baby eat us’. But soft, from whence do those little voices emanate? Tis the fridge … and smoked salmon on good 9 grain bread. With Mayo. A small salad. Is Lunch. I love it when I talk like Shakespeare. All Blessings now.”
Woody Roberts, from out among the mesquites where quails abound near Austin. Just FYI, Woody and I have been discussing Elvis Presley. I heard the first appearance of Elvis on the “Louisiana Hayride” out of KWKH, Shreveport. And wrote a postcard to Red Jones, then with KVET’s two-hour evening “Country Cavalcade,” suggesting he play “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” The conjecture is that Red may have already been drafted into military service. I was at Texas January 1955-August 1958. We were also discussing Mexican food (great in Austin) and the record shop where I probably bought “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash on Sun Records.
“Visited my friend Eddie Wilson today and we got out the 1952 and 1959 Austin phonebooks. There were no listing for Restaurants! It said look under Cafes. There it seems Matt Monroe owned four Mexican restaurants, El Matamoros, Monroe's Mexican Food, El Charo and El Toro. El Rancho was newly opened and had a large ad but was not yet called Matt's El Rancho, likely because the other Matt was "Austin's King of Mexican Food."
“I looked up the Commodore-Perry and it had a large ad saying it was Austin's luxury hotel, air conditioned, swimming pool, every room had a telephone and a radio, ‘television available’. It was at 800 Brazos. Down the street was The Record Shop at 612 Brazos which might have been across the alley from the Commodore but they advertised themselves as ‘Across the street from the Driskel Hotel’. Their ad said ‘phonograph records’ by 1959 the ad said ‘stereo phonograph records’. It was fun looking through the old books, well, not THAT old.... ;-)
“Thank you for the fill in on Red Jones. I remember him well and their sign-on promotions, it was a big deal for Houston radio, K-NUZ and KXYZ had already tried to emulate the McLendon format and rip off their ID phrases to fend off the assault. But KILT hit hard with big money and a fast moving DJ pace. It was the era when I decided to be a DJ and got a volunteer job filing records at K-NUZ. What a thrill. The Red and Elvis story needs checking out because Red says he was drafted in '53 and it was '54 when Elvis happened.”
Red Jones to Woody Roberts, copy to me: “You and I have never met but I am very familiar with you, your career, etc. … thanks to what we used to have ... Vox Jox, regional promo men who promoted records but had all the skinny on radio people all over ... and some of it was really true! ... and now with Claude keeping the lights on to help piece things together. I'll be 83 next month; so many of ‘my crowd’ have passed on but when Claude mentions someone from ‘the old days’ whose still around, it gets my eye. You were asking about years, etc. I started in radio at KRGV, Weslaco, right after high school in 48 as a board op, as the announcer had only a mike and a cough button and maybe a half-hour record show in between NBC pgms. But the PD there befriended me and had me reading aloud to him for hours. That helped, as I moved to Austin in 1950, enrolled at UT, and got the night shift at KVET. Had a good run there since TV didn't really hit there till about late 52. (Damn, we ARE old.) Uncle Sam got me in mid-53 and I ended up with AFN< Berlin (AFRTS). Great duty. 250,000 watts. Almost stayed in Europe with AFN upon discharged as a DA civilian but came on home in 56. With McLendon at KILT, Houston (PD, air), till Burkhart hired me for WQXI Atlanta in late ‘61. By ‘68 I wanted to do combo work (air/sales) and QXI did not go that route. WFOM, Marietta/Atlanta, as combo. Part ownership, management, air work, at stations in S. Ga. until I tried to retire in 2001. Friend of mine had a station, made exceptional deal, I joined as morning man 6-10 M-F in ‘semi retirement’. 2011, totally retired and having been inducted into the Ga. Radio HOF in 2008. So, it's been a good 63-year ride. Sorry, I might have been long-winded with this but there's a little ham left in all of us. Hook Em Horns!”
President Barack Obama honored Linda Ronstadt a few days ago. A medal. Listening now to “Cry Me a River.” What a voice. I love just about anything she sings. Love her Mexican stuff. Been a fan since her Stone Poney days. Met her once at the old Palomino. Backstage. I understand she’s losing her voice. Time for tears!
Robert E. Richer: “Your commentary is lovely, Claude … and right on the money. I won’t comment on Mel Phillips’ thoughts other than to say that I had my first job in broadcasting in 1954, also in the ABC mail room. I graduated to the lofty title of assistant to the Program Director of WABC Radio, who was in fact a woman named Myrtle Tower. Used to love to watch Block’s show in those halcyon days when he never touched a record. That was left to an engineer on the other side of the glass. In those days at 7 West 66th Street, ABC radio had a huge performance studio, and Block was able to do a special, where he got both feuding Dorsey brothers into the studio and had them shake hands and make up with each other. Block also had a bright red Allard J2X which I coveted. He used to drive it from his home in NJ, through the Holland Tunnel and park it in the garage next to ABC. Other legendary ABC radio announcers included Mike Wallace (yes, radio), Art Van Horn, John Hicks and sports icon, Bill Stern.”
Mel Phillips: “Claude, you're making me a monster with heaps of praise bestowed on me that I don't deserve. But that's not why I'm writing. Enjoyed all the stories in Commentary #22 but I had no idea what you went through prior to becoming a mainstay at Billboard. I had never heard of anyone hitch hiking to NYC from as far as you did. What a bold move. I thought leaving my parents in Brooklyn for Haleyville, Alabama, and my first radio job at 18 was bold but you put me to shame.”
To me, “The Last Picture Show” was a horror story. A good reason to head for Manhattan.
More from Mel Phillips: “Fresh out of high school at 17, there was only one reason I was working in the WABC (AM, FM, TV) mailroom -- I was turned down for the page job I really wanted. Later in life I would learn that my friend Harvey Mednick (a couple of years my senior) was hired as an ABC page in the Little Theater where Dick Clark would later do his Saturday night show. Resigned to my fate as a mailboy, I delivered mail to the likes of Leonard Goldenson, president of ABC, Ollie Treyz and the rest of the corporate heads, Steve Labunski who was in sales then, and anyone else that had an office. The fun part of the job was related to music.
“On my lunch hour I would watch Joe Franklin do his live show. Joe used me as a gofer (‘Hey, kid, run this up to the control room for me’). I saw the Shirelles make their first TV appearance (according to Joe, at least) singing ‘I Met Him on a Sunday’ live to a track. Jimmie Rodgers (‘Honeycomb’, etc.) also made his TV debut on the show (according to Joe). Joe would have this big, fake smile that he turned on when he was showing old black & white movie stills under music. He had the control room kill his mike so he could bitch about camera close-ups and angles. All while smiling. But it was show business and I soaked it all in. Alan Freed had his TV show at channel 7 then and he also hosted a radio show. I would watch Freed rehearse his TV shows. Pat Boone hosted a weekly (network) TV show from the building and I would stay after work to watch it live but there was not much rock & roll music on that show or another TV show hosted by Patrice Munsel. ABC was the youngest of the alphabet networks and they would hire personalities who were well known. John (‘What's My Line’) Daly, Mike Wallace who was famous for his cutting, smoke-filled interviews. Mike would later become a mainstay on ‘60 Minutes’. Joe Franklin was known locally before ABC hired him. Merv Griffin was a big-band singer who hosted a radio show and then broke into TV. As a network, ABC decided to capitalize on westerns following their success with ‘Cheyenne’ (Clint Walker) in 1955. In 1957 ‘Maverick’ debuted and became a huge success. ‘Sugarfoot’, ‘Colt .45’ and ‘Lawman’ followed.
“The biggest TV music show on the network was ‘American Bandstand’. That became a network show in the summer of 1957. I remember sending out the press release, ad mats and slides to TV stations. Little did I ever expect to be working for Dick Clark about 40 years later when he and Nick Verbitsky hired me to do affiliate relations for the reboot of United Stations Radio Network.
“To Larry Cohen and Danny Davis: the feeling was always mutual on my part. Thank you for your kind remembrance.”
Dick Summer: “Mel, I'm pretty sure the guy who originally put WABC together was Mike Joseph.”
Late news from Woody Roberts: Chuck Dunaway is soon to undergo triple bypass and will be recovering for a few weeks.
Bob Sherwood: “That was a wonderful essay on Communications. I know it’s a National Pastime to dump all over contemporary radio and while it’s sad it’s somewhat deserved. Thank God there are still a few pros out there like Scott Shannon and Dave Sholin who make you want to listen and be part of their world. And the few big market radio stations that actually hire entertainers and encourage them to entertain. Thank heaven for small market radio and the almost lost art of ‘local programming’. Sadly, the profession of programming began to become extinct after the disaster of de-regulation. One of my friends and former on-air associates who’s managed to survive for several decades in LA has told me that he’s had to ‘train’ several dozen PDs who didn’t have the faintest idea of basic programming. They generally came from sales, accounting or a used car sales lot. They certainly weren’t looking for a Johnny Holliday, Larry Lujack, Big Don Barksdale or Lee ‘Baby’ Simms. And wouldn’t have a clue about what to do with them if they found them. As a former jock and PD who still loves radio and what it used to be it saddens me to consistently hear spots announcing a Holiday sale three days after the weekend and nobody fixes it. And this is in the biggest market in the country! Plus three automobile, insurance company and airline spots in a row. And nobody fixes it. First, there’s no longer a Traffic Director and second, in most if not all major chains, no one in the station is authorized to change anything. OK, OK. Enough ‘Old Man & the Sea’ and yada, yada, yada. I’m turning up the radio and listening to more Shannon. PS -- how’s the book comin’?”
Ah, yes … the book about sex, sin, and salvation. I’m now thinking about raising the price for the eBook to $99.99. Today, I’m editing on page 757 and onward! Guess you might say it takes a lot of words to talk about sex, huh.
Berit Mason: “Claude: I enjoyed reading your commentary about how you hitched to New York ... and the state of affairs in media today; the Internet, et al. New York, the 50s, the 60s ... great days. Wish I were born in 1945. We did have a discussion about radio in the newsroom ... or rather I eavesdropped (not hard to do in this tiny, dumpy room) about how when big news breaks, people still immediately turn to AM radio. The program director is about 53, the news director, veteran Jim Forsyth, 59. Apparently ratings for WOAI 1200 AM are strong. Just a note from a working AM radio newsroom in the south. We are, of course, clear channel but the new PD is slowly dropping FOX. First, we dropped the newscasts from FOX NY which makes our local casts longer and he's pushing to drop the trio: Rush, Beck and Hannity. I hope this rambling makes sense. Squeezed it in waiting for an interview. Hi to Barbara. Best from pixie.”
Sounds as if the PD there is a fairly bright hombre. Just FYI, Ms. Mason is the daughter of old friends, Bill and Rigmor Mason. Bill was a great writer. Left True to write books, including “To Beat the Devil” about Hitler. Barbara and I were at the hospital just about the time Berit, known as Pixie to us, was born.
More Woody Roberts: “To paraphrase some Admiral Farragut in the heat of battle: ‘Damn the mosquitoes!’ In Houston 1950s the city used to send out mosquito fogger trucks and the neighborhood kids would run behind in the mist. Not good but Montsanto always had a strong lobby in that city dominated by a Glenn McCarthy spirit. Anything modern and new. What energy. They claimed the Bayou City was Air Conditioning Capitol of the World and pointed out the new Foley's department store didn't have any windows except for showcases. They built a monorail that started in a field and a few miles later dead-ended in a field. In another field off North Main an elevated length of abandoned expressway ramp built in the wrong place. The live music was either C&W or R&B performed in little BYOB clubs; except for places like the Tidelands where I first saw the Bobby Doyle Trio with Kenny Rodgers on bass. That's when I was a summer life guard at the Shamrock Hilton and tuned in every afternoon 3-7 to hear Paul Berlin on K-NUZ.”
Joel O’Brien, Randolph, VT, referring to last week’s diatribe: “Let's see someone swat a fly with an iPad!”
Joel, I understand from an informed source that Danny Davis is working hard on an apt.
Timmy Manocheo: “Claude, your column yesterday struck a few chords inside of my mind. That bit about the media, you know the fact that newspapers are disappearing & how the TV news isn't news anymore. Well, one or two things I've noticed during my tenure here on this Earthly playing field; firstly - Ever since the cell-phone fad & Internet takeover of media, WHY IS IT that the TV news feels so threatened by these new media sources? I mean: TV news is running scared, trying to utilize cell-phone (lack of) technology by incorporating completely crappy & below standard images, video as well as AUDIO, into what used to be a high quality, state of the art medium? Take a look at some old footage of TV news, say from around 1995. Compare it to what's jokingly passing for today's TV news. See the difference? Well, maybe you don't have some of those old VHS tapes with random broadcasts of things like that laying around your house, and if you did, you may not have a workable video tape machine hooked up, BUT I DO. And, I'll tell you something, I also have memory. Memory of TV news that didn't permit low quality video to be used for their broadcasts, especially when there's perfectly suitable high quality technology at their fingertips. LIKE VIDEO CAMERAS?!?!?!!! UH??? Why use a trashy image taken by a cheap ass cell phone? The audio sucks, the video sucks. Why lower your standards to that level? Also, just as bad a factor, is the use (MISUSE) of ratio. Why on God's green (GREY) Earth would TV news want to subject the viewer to the torture of having to watch elongated or squished video of something they are supposed to see au naturel (I looked this term up, it's the definitive, correct version)? I don't care if it's EASIER to just insert the video without making the image compatible to the images of the guys & gals in the ‘newsroom’. FIX IT UP RIGHT, so IT MATCHES!!! That's what producers are supposed to do! Next, let's discuss the take-over of the language ... I cannot, for the life of Mary, see why TV news pollutes itself with the lame forms of media communication. Whenever I see these terms appear on the screen, or hear the announcer quickly trying to mention, while I am watching a TV show: ‘Twitter’, ‘Tweet’, ‘Facebook’, ‘Like’, ‘blank-blank-blank.com’ & all the rest of Internetal terminology --, I cringe & laugh maniacally. ALERT ---> These things are but mere COMPETITORS to TV & radio!!! Get with it! Don't use them! Besides that, it's dangerous & dumb! OK, the final thought for this lesson is TV technology, itself. Not the type of TV equipment used for the production of the program, but the technology we are all sold, when we go into a Best Buy or Fry's or whatever commie-oriented outlet, to PAY MONEY FOR a TV set. The big thing here is: Ratio. Why are ratios all different for High-Def, and between different channels & programs? Even the stations are mixing up different ratios between not only different programs, but WITHIN THE SAME PROGRAMS, THEMSELVES!!! THIS, I suggest, is a plot. Yes, a plot to estrange us from what reality is. I would love to escape into a world of make-believe TV-landia, once more, like days of yore, but alas, I cannot swallow the swill of these kinds of deteriorating tactics. Please, some billionaire out there, with a few hundred million to spare, please purchase &/or start your own network, like Ted Turner (A man who shall some day be Canonized) did, once upon a time, in a land far, far away, and make TV an enjoyable pass-time, again, if not for your own sakes, & the sakes of your offspring, but for my sake. -- Let us pray -- Your friend in California.”
More from Timmy: “Claude, in my previous email I forgot the inclusion of the most important part of the sad state of TV news today... CONTENT. Ever notice, while rapidly changing channels during ‘news hour rush’ (4-7PM weekdays), how all the different networks are showcasing the exact same story for an exact time frame? Yes, it's true. They all must receive orders on what to run & when. Although, there's a way around it, if you don't mind foreign languages. I don't understand 80% of the Spanish TV words, but DO understand what the stories reveal, 99% for Asian news show. But what you do see is far more telling than what our big networks here in USA-land tell us. Then, there's PBS, well, it may have the same name as decades ago, but it now includes commercials, subtle that they may be, and they ramble on about personal agendas, far too much. I mean, I can hardly watch the war reports in peace! OK, 'Nough said.”
Danny Davis: “I figure you've been made aware, Authorman. But if not check the New York Times, today, and the story on Joe Isgro, The Gambino's, and the rest of those 'guys' I've wanted to be like, before the music business cut me out to be 'just like 'em'! Best to you and every Hall in the house!”
The full news about Joe Isgro came from Robert E. Richer and Don Elliot and I think Don Sundeen was also involved. Basically, the item says that former indie record promoter Joe Isgro has been charged with helping run a mob-connected gambling ring. Isgro has always denied any ties with organized crime and escaped a late-1980s payola charge. About a decade ago, he served three years in prison on charges of loaning money in Beverly Hills - at an interest rate of 5% a week. Now the New York Times says Isgro showed up in New York Supreme Court wearing “a red Marine Corps tee-shirt and flip-flops as he pleaded not guilty to gambling, conspiracy and money laundering charges” involving a “wire room” in Costa Rica. Five others have been indicted. Note: I only met Joe Isgro once, so far as I can recall. Looked like a little GI Joe doll.
Jerry Ross: “Tom Kennedy sends his regards. When i go down memory lane, you are there at Billboard and I, I am hoping you will write a hot item/column about my new record or LP from my Mercury days with Shelby or my independent label Heritage and Colossus days. I hope this finds you well and in great spirits.”
Hey, Jerry, did Shelby Singleton ever produce one of your sessions? Be fun to write about it. I don’t know why, but I always liked Shelby. I’ll never forget the day he called to tell me about “Harper Valley PTA.” He said he was having the record pressed at three plants because of the demand. He wanted to make sure Don Ovens, head of charts for the magazine, didn’t lose the hit. So, I went in and told Donny about Shelby’s phone call. What a hit! Thanks for the note, Jerry.
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May each and everyone of you have a phenomenal week. The key to feeling better is to wish everyone well.