Today at 8:57 AM
February 9, 2015
Claude’s Commentary No. 50
By Claude Hall
Rob Moorhead, Los Angeles: “Apologies for being a spectator. I read your page religiously. I don't write. I will change that. Sobering and heartbreaking news. A few words to share: It's been nearly two years since George Wilson died. Death is always hard to accept. But with George, it was something we had expected and we stood vigil for weeks. Still, it was a very hard and trying time. Lee Baby's death came wholly unexpected to me. He was there with us, and then suddenly he wasn't. That is even harder to reconcile. The shock of sudden loss. I owe much to Lee. Here's one heart wrenching story I would like to share that speaks of his very soul, the man inside. It involves the very special way in which he helped George pass on. Lee was a very selfless man, and here is just one such instance in which he made a profound difference to others. George was rarely cogent in his last days, drifting in and out of consciousness, but there was one very bright moment to be had the day before he died. A moment of heartwarming clarity, and even -- believe it or not -- levity. And it came from Lee Baby, who else?
“During those final days, George was surrounded by his large family, each taking turns holding his hands and speaking kind words to him, keeping him as comfortable as possible. Bittersweet solace, I suppose. There's a contentment of having loved ones close by to see you out. George wasn't finished living, but it was his time to go. He knew that. He was waiting to meet God. He didn't want to talk on the phone. Of this he was adamant. He was content with his family, the quiet days that passed slowly as he lingered, and that was enough for him. But for the one exception. Lee.
“Lee Baby Simms called me. We had been it touch often and he knew it was only a matter of hours before George passed. He wanted to speak with George one last time. Initially, I tried to politely defer to George's wishes -- something especially difficult to do as Lee Baby was one of George's oldest and dearest friends -- but then again, Lee is Lee, and he won't be denied anything. Can't be done. He said to me (in that deeply resonant voice that I always imagined God envied and wanted back) ‘George doesn't have to talk to me, he doesn't even have to say a word, just hold the phone up to his ear, I have only one short thing to tell him. I'll whisper it. It will just be a whisper’. Can do, I said, except for one little thing; George doesn't wear his hearing aids in bed. Whispering wasn't going to work. Still, we tried it nevertheless. I told George it was Lee on the phone ,.. could Lee Baby say a few words to him? George nodded in agreement.
‘So, I held the phone to his ear and,... well,...nothing happened. George couldn't hear a damned thing. Dead air. I got back on the line with Lee Baby. Wasn't working, I said. The only way this could possibly work was for me to repeat his words to George myself. Loudly. Fine. Lee was good with that. ‘But’, he said, adding his cleaver caveat, ‘make sure he knows this was actually said in a whisper. That's very important. Tell him I am whispering this to him’. ‘Okay’, I said, ‘promise’.
“Lee whispered his short message to me. My eyes welled up. It took a moment before I could manage to repeat them. I put the receiver down, leaned over George, cupped his ear, and said in a booming outdoor voice (that's all that George could manage to hear without his hearing aids), ‘Lee Baby wants me whisper something in your ear. He's whispering it to you ... remember, this is just a whisper, right? Lee Baby's whisper. Okay?’ George nodded in agreement. Then, in the loudest stage whisper I could manage (more of a hoarse shout, actually) I repeated Lee's words verbatim.
"’I love you’.
“George heard it clearly. Crisp as daylight it was. In fact, the whole house heard it, too. But to George, it wasn't a shout, it was still spoken in Lee's gentle whisper. You see, he loved Lee's aural tapestries, and this was an especially resonant one. No matter how loud I had shouted it, the words had remained a whisper, just as Lee had painted them. He smiled, ear to ear, probably his last truly big smile ever, and on the last lucid day of his life. He then said to me, ‘Tell him I love him too, Rob ... say, I love you, man’. And I did. We all cried. Lee, too.
“I imagine Lee knew exactly how his scenario would play out. He knew full-well George was nearly deaf and would never be able to hear a whisper. Of course he expected it to be shouted -- and though we didn't realize it at the time -- George did, and he truly appreciated the fun. He got it before we did. George soon faded into a coma. He died the next morning. His last thoughts were gloriously happy ones. He was grateful to Lee. He felt so loved by everyone, near and far. That call carried a lot of weight. To him, those words were from the entire world, from everyone he had ever loved, not just Lee. That's how important the moment felt.
“Me? I loved Lee Baby, too. In fact, I knew Lee -- off and on -- almost my entire life. He worked for my dad in Jacksonville when I was what? ... three? ... five? It was the early '60s. And after that, he appeared repeatedly, town to town, to frequency to format to call sign ... he just kept popping up. The stories, the history, the adventures he could tell. Good God! I've seen both the chaos and the brilliance that co-existed in the man, they fed off each other. Amazing, just an amazing guy. Those three words were the greatest gift imaginable. George was gloriously happy after that call. And you know what, that act was just pure Lee, his heart and soul. A real man. What a lovely guy. He knew what was needed at that moment more than we all did, and he went and did it. Damn the torpedoes.
“My regret now is not having said ‘I love you’ to Lee Baby himself at the time he needed it most. I think we all share that feeling now. I didn't know he was hurting. I did say things in passing sometimes, and I certainly wasn't shy of sharing my feelings. But not enough. I didn't say it when he needed it most. I must live with that now and forever. I love you, Lee. A brilliant man, a supernova if there ever was, a blazing bright light streaking across the sky, enormously generous and caring, and so full of talent I don't know how he could to even walk a straight line. I was in awe of the man. Crazy, yes, but in the very best of ways, the radio way. Always pushing the limits, stretching the rules of imagination; and sometimes, perhaps, going too far for the mores of myopic employers. His clock ran slightly ahead of the rest of ours, always a few minutes ahead of the times. He brightened our lives with his wit, charm, and skill. His heart. HIs genius. A savant. Above all, an extremely kind soul. Loyalty and friendship was his lodestar. May we all learn from him. I am so deeply saddened. There's a hole in my life today. I miss him dearly. Forever.”
Note: Rob Moorhead was George Wilson’s son-in-law. His father was L. David Moorhead, the founder of the icon KMET-FM, Los Angeles.
Kim Simms, daughter of Lee Baby, to the Three Mesquiteers: “Salutations Gentleman, I have much to say to all of y'all, and I will in due time, but I am a little overwhelmed at the moment. Just let me say Thank You to all of you for your kind words and support. You can certainly tell a lot about a man by the friends he keeps, and you gentleman are absolutely the Cream of the Crop! He was a stellar individual, as are all of you, and he loved each and everyone of you! He sent me some of y'alls emails, and told me stories about all of you. I am truly blessed to be an honorary member of ‘The Mesquiteers’! As my Dad often wrote, after he had written something and found a mistake or had a better way of wording it. ‘Please see Edit’ and he would change it; so I have an edit myself, see below. I was reading a few things on line and people were doing the math about his age, so I thought I would clear things up and set the record straight. My Dad was born on August 24, 1943, at the time of his death he was 71 years old, he would have been 72 this August. Please, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me. With much Love.”
Dave Duke Sholin: “What a wonderful tribute to Lee. I spoke w/him on the phone several times but didn't really know him so reading your words and those of others gives us all insight into his incredible life and career. Some years ago while at Gavin I did a cover story on the late Steve Rivers. I asked Steve to name his favorite jocks and without hesitation he exclaimed, ‘well number one for me is definitely Lee Baby Simms … hands down the best!’ High praise indeed from someone who worked and mentored some of the best in our business. Condolences to you, his family and his many pals.”
Robert E. Richer: “Hi, Claude … FYI, I sent the Lee Baby Simms obit to my pal Dick Robinson: ‘Thanks you for sharing ... Amazing talent! RIP. Dick R.’ I met Bob Crane a couple of times when he was on Ken Cooper’s WICC in Bridgeport. An amazing, dynamic talent when he was on the air. But off-air, one of the most introverted men I’d ever met. Shy, withdrawn. Sitting in front of an open mic was his way of letting all of the pressure out.”
Deniese Barnette: “This is Niese, Lee Simm's sister. I found out through an email from his daughter this past Monday, that he killed himself. We are estranged from Kim and I was wondering if you have any information you can share with me. I can't find an obituary. I live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and I spoke with my brother about two months ago. I have been trying to get in touch with him and he did not respond. I am very upset. Don Roberts told me to contact you because he is in London and will return to the states next Sunday.” I wrote her. “Thank you so much for responding to my email so quickly. I would love to see all the blogs, so please do send them to me. I like to think I was my brother’s favorite sister, so he told me ... but there are two others and he probably told them the same thing. I am in shock over his death and my two sisters are on a cruise and they do not know about this. They return on Saturday and that will be a difficult day when I have to call them and tell them. They live in Philadelphia so we live very far apart. When Lee was in Spartenburg, SC, many years ago, he would dedicate songs to his sisters and we were so thrilled, because we were little girls, he was 10 years old when we were born. We visited him in many stations and use to be able to listen to him when he was in Hartford. I just can't believe he is really gone.”
Scooter Seagraves: “Wish someone could share Lee Baby's KRLA stuff. Heard him when they were doing their AOR-on-AM thing, then few years later in Miami. KTSA a/c was the first time I'd heard his incredible Top 40 chops. GF and I would do some of that proverbial 'friendly help' and LOAO at some of his KRLA stuff in summer '72.”
Gary Allyn: “My memory bank took out quite a large ‘withdrawal’ Sunday last. I wasn't ready for it either. Lee Baby Simms left us this past week. In so doing, he left an unfillable hole in Rock Radio history. Not to mention, many hearts. Lee was uncharacterizable -- if there is such a word. One could use up a Thesaurus, and still not have enough adjectives or nouns to adequately describe the Lee Simms style’ on the air. All you had to know was, that he was a communicator of the first degree. However you choose to define Lee's unique air talent is subjective. We people tend to put labels on other people and things, it's as though we have to quantify them somehow, rather than to just enjoy them. Every now and then, we run across some body like a Lee Baby Simms ... and we can't seem to find a category that fits what we have come to accept as normal or regular. Some defy description, and Lee Simms was one of THOSE. Me? Well I've
worked with and for some pretty extraordinary Radio people in my days, but few exhibited the most high tribute I would give ... that would be, to be called a true Artist. There aren't many out there with that mantle of excellence. Lee is one original who I never heard copied. You couldn't. How many can you say that about? Having been a fellow DJ with Lee, and his Program Director a few times, I still can't tell you I really knew what was so damned special about him. All I understood was, Lee was special. You felt it, you knew it when you were with Lee, or just simply heard him. I was a fan like everyone else who ever heard him perform his artistry on the air. There are those like Jackie Robinson, a Bo Jackson, an Elvis Presley, an Ella Fitzgerald, a Muhammed Ali, a Michael Jackson, a LeBron James, a Mozart, a Pavarotti, a Ted Williams ... you get the idea ... special people in their field of expertise. These gifted ones ARE special. Everyone feels or senses it almost immediately, but we are hard pressed to explain their greatness or level of specialness. That, thank God, can be left to us mere mortals to try and figure out and to enjoy. Much has been made of the Lee Simms air talent. But Gilmore Lamar Simms, the person from South Carolina, was just as exemplary as his Lee Baby alter ego on the air was. He was perfect for the ‘Peace, Flowers & Love’ generation he was at his zenith in. A free spirit who always did it his way ... even to the end. No, Lee always made you feel that YOU needed him ... he didn't need you. As a high school drop out, Lee somehow knew how words communicated. His flowery descriptions and delightful stories sprung forth from some source, some word well, that belied his shortened education. A fan once wrote Lee, telling him of his brilliance when the fan heard one of his incredible air checks. Lee responded: ‘What a surprise on this rainy Sunday morning, when upon awakening from my slumber, my sleep ('To sleep, perchance to dream' -- the dead air dream. If I live to be a thousand years old, I will dream the dead air dream’). Lee went on to thank the person for his email, then ended with this: ‘Look now lads, the Sun burns through the rain, the clouds. The Sun, the source of all Life asserts itself. It will not be denied’. Not bad for a high school drop out. Lee Simms did not live to be a thousand years old. Me? I'll ‘re-deposit’ those LBS memories and smile. God Bless you my good friend, I trust you are now living your ‘Dead Air Dream’.
Claude Hall: I’d like to point out that Lee Baby Simms was extremely well read … i.e., he was self-educated. Beyond this, he also enjoyed all kinds of music, including classical and it was Lee Baby Simms that tuned me onto Greg Brown. I have a master’s and that have about half of the coursework toward a Ph.D. in communication. Believe me, Lee Baby Simms was adept. Mostly because of his love of everything and eagerness to learn.
Barbara Bodnar to Robert Weisbuch: “I know you must be distressed. Lee's death was such a shock and a big loss. It took me some time to pull my own thoughts together and be able to share them. I knew Lee briefly when he was at WPOP. I was promotion director and copywriter, and as such, we had a chance to work together on production. He was kind, helpful, talented and always mysterious. Those qualities made him remarkable and unforgettable. There is only one way of making sense of his death and that is to remember he always moved on when he was ready. Those who loved him are pained. Those who knew him slightly are shocked. Those who only heard of him, or simply heard him on the radio are saddened. It is only right that a man of his stature should turn our emotions upside down. We will all honor him in our own way as the memories of a good man play on and on in our minds.”
Don Sundeen, the great radio/music sage, sent me something about an auction at Graceland, with these comments: “There was so much weird stuff like this surrounding Elvis, including a full-fledged church, that it’s almost beyond belief. Few other celebrities, including the Beatles and Stones, have brought out the crazies like Elvis did, both alive and after he died. I had a personal tour of the real Graceland when doing research for a radio special in the early 80s, and it was strange to almost creepy. I bumped into his 80-something Aunt Nash, who lived in a room under the main staircase, as we entered the house. Elvis had included her in his will, directing that she could live at Graceland until her death, and she was there alone in the big house coming out of the kitchen. We were introduced and I said to her, ‘Aunt Nash, I imagine you miss Elvis very much’, and she replied, ‘Oh no, I hear him singing upstairs in the shower every night’. At that point my handler said it was time to move along, it wasn’t the kind of story they wanted in a radio show. At some point I asked to use the bathroom and was allowed to use a private privy off the kitchen where the walls were covered with signatures of famous performers; directly above the toilet was written, ‘Bob Dylan’ and the date of his visit. Of course I also signed the wall. Btw, our program was never produced; after the tour I had a meeting with Jack Soden, the man in charge of the estate, and he told me we’d be bidding against Dick Clark Productions and they were offering $1,000,000. I thanked him for the hospitality and told him that was about $750,000 over our budget; then we shook hands, said goodbye and he gave me a T-Shirt. Your comments are welcome.”
Larry Cohen, Long Beach: “TO JOHNNY HOLLIDAY: FYI, although the information in Claude's No. 48m2 re. Sal Licata is correct, there are no calls allowed to be directly forwarded to him, per instructions of Mrs. Licata. Passing myself off as Dr. Cohen, a specialist in the field of neck & back rehabilitation did me no good. The male evening nurse (Noel) wouldn't even give me a hint of his condition. Everything seemed to be hush-hush. With your long & personal relationship with Sal, if permissible, you may want to inform us old-time friends & peers if 'all is well' & let him know that he is in our thoughts. I met Sal almost 53 years ago when we were both local UA rep's. (I think he was from Cleveland at that time & we may have shared a room together at a UA national sales meeting.) Many years later Sal was hired by UA as head of marketing at the home office at 6920 Sunset Blvd. in LA. I was running promotion back east when I got a phone call from a very serious S. Licata requesting me to ‘cut back on my expenses’. Unfortunately for the both of us, Sal (AS MANY OTHERS) had a very short tenure at UA under the guise of a very difficult CEO, Mike Stewart & I never got that expense report approved & signed by Sal nor reimbursed. So when (Noel) the night nurse at Kessler Rehab' asked if there was a message he could deliver to Mr. Licata, I said tell him ‘Dr. Larry Cohen is awaiting for his ong overdue expense report to be approved & signed by the patient’. Hopefully, this will put a smile on his face. And to you, Johnny Holliday, I still remember quite vividly that night you took me to the Cow Palace (??) to the Warriors game, watch Clifford Ray control the boards & listen to your great stories about your buddy, Hall-of-famer Rick Barry. And I still have never forgotten. Both that night and you.”
Ed Silvers, who bills himself as a music man turned Caribbean sailor, to Sam Riddle: “Hi, Sam and Adrienne, what a wonderful surprise to hear of you in Claude's writings! I have been completely out of touch with the ‘industry’ since sailing away from Hollywood and WB Music in 1981. Some time ago I stumbled upon the report of those in radio and promotion, and have enjoyed reading about the gang from the 60's. Some of my happiest memories are those of Liberty Records and being a record hyper to some of the best radio people in the business. I live on a tiny island -- Virgin Gorda -- about 3000 of us, and I know everyone of my neighbors. No crime or violence here! I have sailed to every island in the Caribbean, mostly single handing. In my 60s, I married a childhood sweetheart -- I'm a very lucky guy -- I thought I would never make a husband! Great to hear that you are still active and enjoying life. I have such good memories of times we spent together -- let's stay in touch. Warmest personal regards.”
Sam Riddle to Ed Silvers: “Wow! What a great surprise. HI, Ed! Adrienne says to say hello to you. For sure we should catch up. Claude, in answer to what I am doing these days ... for sure I am keeping active. Currently developing a new teen/tween drama-music TV series for Sea World Entertainment to be produced in both English and Spanish ... sort of a Glee by the Sea!”
Ron Jacobs, Hawaii: “Aloha from Pearl City. I live about a half-mile from the harbor, as in ‘Day of Infamy’. I was seven-years-old. We could see the smoke from Waikiki, seven miles away; no tall buildings. The usual aloha to you and your co-author lady!”
J.J. Johnson promotes his book “Aircheck: Life in Music Radio” on the link below. Always liked J.J. Great voice! “I just saw your name online and, for some reason, the mental picture of the two of us sitting in a booth at Martoni's flashed in my head. Anyhow, glad you're still around. It's a long way from 1580 KDAY and further still from KFRC, but I still exist. I don't know if you're aware of the following, but it'll take 90 seconds to get it. I wanted you to be aware.”
Hey, J.J., I always thought you owned that booth at Martoni’s! Good luck with the book.
And Timmy Manocheo writes that Shadoe Stevens will be on the air live, again, all next week, from 6:AM to 10:AM (CST) on WLUP/FM in Chicago.
That's Monday 2/9/15 through Friday 2/13/15.
Robby Vee continues to build. He and his rockabilly band performs Feb. 13 at the Community Center in Bloomington, MN, and the next day at the Zumbrota State Theater, MN. For those who don’t know, this is one of Bobby Vee’s sons. His other two sons work as backup to various acts and operate a recording studio in St. Cloud, MN.
I confess that the past week or so have been hectic. Someone sent me a photo of a blazing sun in a blue sky. Possibly part of a cover. If there was anything else, I didn’t get it. Sorry.
Gary Gielow, San Francisco: “Jim Gabbert has sent me your Commentary 49r which includes your kind comments about the book about KPEN. Thank you kindly. It was a labor of love and we hope a way to keep the memory of KPEN alive. The way to order the book, and the price, is $23.95 via the CHRS (California Historical Radio Society) website www.californiahistoricalradio.com. If you could correct the address in a future issue it would be appreciated.”
Don Graham sent me some photos from the luncheon honoring Rick Dees in Los Angeles. “It was a terrific event,” according to Graham. “Great fun seeing Rick Dees, Jhani Kaye, Shotgun Tom Kelly, Chuck Street, Mike Horn, Fritz Coleman, Harold Green, Wally Clark, Scott St. James, David Sheean, Wink and Sandy Martindale.” Okay, so I had to go back to my old Power Mac, which is hooked to my scanner. Try to relearn old programs. Gah! How do you turn the computer on? It’s Monday, for God’s Sake! Then I tried to reestablish just who I am: A rational, sane, intelligent human being. I finally figured out Photoshop from days of Fibber McGhee and Molly. Transferred over to this MacBook Pro via a Zip. One photo features Rick Dees and Shotgun Tom Kelly. The other Rick Dees with Sandy and Wink Martindale. May the Good Lord bless and keep Don Graham! But he has been removed from my A list to my B list for the rest of the day!