Monday, February 16, 2015

Claude's Commentary No. 51r2

Today at 8:08 AM
February 16, 2015
Claude’s Commentary No. 51
By Claude Hall

My desktop opened just now on a photo of a beautiful woman smiling at me.  Barbara.  Years ago.  We are on a sailboat.  I took the photo of a St. Croix sailor guiding the sailboat up and down towering swells en route to Buck Island.  Jay and Chancey Blackburn are in the photo.  They treated us to a week in the islands; courtesy of an island radio station construction deal for Blackburn and his buddies.  I am still astonished when I see a photo of Barbara from our younger days.  She was so pretty!  Lived on Park Avenue in Manhattan with her mother and brother before we were married.  And she married a redneck from Texas like me?  Improbable if not impossible.  Even though I fancied myself a somewhat liberated redneck.  And above the norm of the usual Texican.  Lie her mother told me:  “Barbara doesn’t eat much and has plenty of clothes.”  But that was not my reason to marry her.  When I opened the taxi door to help her out at our first date – a 1960 Kentucky Derby party in Manhattan – her hand fit comfortably in mine.  From that moment until this very second, I guess I’ve been in tow.  We were married by a JP the following Sept. 1, 1960.

I really enjoyed knowing Jay Blackburn and knowing Bruce Miller Earle.  I met them at an NAB convention in Washington in the 60s.  Would you believe that we flew in an ancient Gruman Goose from Puerto Rico to St. Croix; the airline was owned and operated by Maureen O’Hara and her husband.  The St. Croix trip from Jay for me and Barbara was just a way of Jay saying thank you.  We stayed in a hotel on St. Croix managed by the woman who had managed the group Brooklyn Bridge.  I think Jay traded or horsewrangled the hotel out.  And eggs benedict and champagne was reasonable in a nearby outdoor restaurant.  Barbara and I ate most of our meals in that restaurant just a short walk away.  I rented a car one day and we toured the island.   Great!  I was close to Jay, the creator of WLUP-FM in Chicago, until he died. And like to believe that Barbara and I are still friends with his widow Chauncey.  Still enjoy, too, the friendship of Bruce Miller Earle, a real and true cancer survivor.

Though I’d talked with L. David Moorhead on the phone, I never met him until he sat down on the barstool next to me in a basement bar at the Century-Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles and offered to help me run the International Radio Programming Forum.  We were close until the day he died.  As for George Wilson, I’d met him in 1964 when he wanted me to write a story about him so he could win a Gavin award.  I wrote the story.  He didn’t win.  But we became friends anyway.  After the death of David Moorhead, George became my closest friend until he died.  Through George I got to know Lee Baby Simms.  You cannot imagine how close I became to Lee until the day he died.  We were brothers all.  I’ve had other brothers in radio and music … and still do.  Thank God!

Gary Owens (Altman) died Thursday in Los Angeles.  He suffered from diabetes since childhood; had to use insulin twice a day.  He was 80.  Constantly the voice for commercials and TV cartoon characters, he was a radio personality for years on KMPC, Los Angeles; he also worked at KOIL in Omaha.  He was the “announcer” who held his hand to his ear to tell the audience that the “Laugh In” television show was coming to you from “beautiful downtown Burbank.”  He is survived by wife Arletta and two sons.  He was a superb cartoonist as well as a writer (one of his books was on uses of the telephone).  He collected books about humor and once mentioned to me that he had more than 10,000 volumes.  For several years, we belonged to a basketball group (along with a TV producer, a lawyer, a hotdog manufacturer, a former UCLA star, a writer that later became well-known columnist on a Pennsylvania newspaper) that played once a week in the San Fernando Valley.  He would drop one-liners up and down the court.  When he made a ridiculous shot against the backboard from the corner of the court, typical, he would classically remark, “Oh, Gary.”  He was a good friend; I’m proud to say that and realize how lucky I was to be so.  Once, Barbara had a birthday party for me at 2800 Moraga and who showed up but Gary.  Seems that my son John, about 11, had invited him.  That was Gary.  He was always willing to “give back” to help radio.  Emcee work, etc.  Especially for charities.  Once, a policeman stopped him on the highway and asked for his driver’s license which had his real name, but he recognized Gary, who’d recently done a benefit for the police.  Waved him on down the road.  I’d like to write about the time Gary and I played one-on-one in his Encino backyard in the rain, but I just don’t feel in a humorous mood at the moment.  However, all of my memories of Gary are warm.  The tribute by Ken Levine is a beautiful piece of writing.  I wish I could write like that.  I hope you get to read it.  We come, we do, we go.

Morris Diamond:  “Just got word about the passing of Gary Owens.  He was 80 and he died peacefully in his home in Encino with his family present.  I started promoting records with Gary when he was on the air in St. Louis.  It was a joy for me personally when he moved to LA and KMPC – among a few other stations.  He always gave me a big smile when he'd finish playing jazz pianist George Shearing … and he would announce – ‘It's Shearing you’re hearing, by George’.  But he had hundreds of great lines on the air.  I'm so sorry to hear of his passing.  RIP, Gar.”

Ron Jacobs heard the news from Kevin Gershan of “Entertainment Tonight.”  John Hall, my son, sent me a link to a story about Gary.  Don Barrett sent me and the world a quick note.  Word was spreading fast on Friday.  Gary was very close to Joe Smith, but that’s Joe’s story to tell.

Don Sundeen:  “Gary Owens, was as nice a guy as anyone who ever came from Mitchell, SD, and became a star in the radio and TV worlds.  Many of the folks reading this worked with Gary or were his good friends, so I’d like to share one brief remembrance.  It was in the early 70s and I was sitting in the lobby of KMPC, a large room resembling an up-scale hotel lobby complete with nice furniture and potted plants, and waiting my turn to pitch my wares.  Suddenly Gary Owens exploded through the front door carrying some magazines, and plopped down beside me on the sofa.  He excitedly said, ‘Look at these’, showing me a number of copies of  Life magazine from the 40s and 50s that he’d just picked up at the newsstand up the street.  For 15 minutes or so we looked at the stories, laughed at the prices in the ads and generally yucked it up.  When the receptionist told me it was time to go on back, he stood up and said, ‘Don’t forget to put all your albums, no matter what format in my dropbox’. and he was gone.  Gary had incredibly eclectic and sophisticated taste and he wanted to know what was happening in all musical genres as well as the general zeitgeist.  I visualize him tonight cupping his right ear, and taking his place at the Table of Legends in the radio/TV section of Rock and Roll Heaven.  ‘Anyone seen Rowan and Martin?’

Woody Roberts to Don Sundeen: “Never met the man.  But when I first started being a Top 40 DJ it was Gary Owen's KFWB morning show that blew me away, all those voices, sound effects, planned out routines and his distinctive I-might-be-putting-you-on delivery had me scoring airchecks often as possible.  It was as Chuck Blore used to say ‘theater of the mind’ and had elements of Bob and Ray with Ernie Kovacs.  Early on I did a couple of all night shows and they gave me the opportunity to try and follow his lead, no commercials and management not listening.  Of course not being as talented as Gary, when I went into afternoon drive I dropped most of my pre-produced bits with voices and streamlined.  When I went on morning drive I stretched out more and was then glad I had that all night time to practice.  Talent like Gary Owens, The Real Don Steele and Lee Baby Simms demonstrate the wide diversity found within that category designated as one-of-a-kind DJ personalities.”

Walt Pinto:  “Just saw an All Access bulletin that Gary died yesterday.  A very sad moment.  Although I had only met him twice, I had the highest respect for what he achieved and admired him greatly.  I'm glad you both got to listen to the audio of him with Dick Robinson.”

Don Graham had received a CD from Walt Pinto of an NAB interview with Gary Owens by Dick Robinson.  “Hi, Walt.  Yes, I did get the Dick Robinson/Gary Owens San Diego/NAB interview CD and thank you!  Listened to it and sent it on to Claude Hall for his enjoyment.”

‪Just FYI, I haven’t received the CD yet, so far as I know.  But I’m hoping it will show up.

Scott Paton:  “Attached is the story of Tom Rounds' sleepless marathon at KPOI in 1959 as referenced by Ron Jacobs in your newsletter two weeks ago.  The link he provided to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser requires a subscription to the newspaper to read the article, so I signed up and copied and reformatted the piece here so others could read it.  As discussed in an exchange we had in your Hollywood Hills days, TR was my boss and first professional mentor when I was a writer/researcher on ‘American Top 40’ in the mid-'70s, and he became a dearer friend over the ensuing four decades.  His passing last spring was an enormous loss for me and countless others.  But whether one knew TR or not, I'm certain that most of your followers will get a huge kick out of this Jacobs-Rounds promotional stunt as it reminds us of just how much radio, at its best, could be.  Thanks, Claude, and please let me add my voice to chorus of all those begging you not to hang up this newsletter.  Even if your appointed successor is indeed brilliant, at least chime in every week, or do a split shift.  They've proven time and time again that retirement -- if not rife with activity -- typically hastens one's decline.  So please at least remain an active Dean Emeritus.  This is one opinion with which I suspect your total readership would concur.”

From Claude:  It isn’t me who makes this newsletter, Scott … it’s you.  It was never me.  That’s one reason I’ve always considered myself very lucky.  I’ve had the great luck to have known and know some of the greatest and brightest people in the world.  Thus, I appreciate hearing from you – all of you -- on occasion.  We are radio.

The 1959 Star-Advertiser story by Bob Sigall featured KPOI disc jockey Tom Rounds doing a Wake-a-Thon.  Part of the Sigall story from Scott Paton:  “How do you welcome a new radio personality who's moved from New York to Hawaii? Today it might be an ad campaign on radio and TV. But in 1959 the United States' youngest program director had a different idea: Keep him awake for eight days in a department store window.  The new radio personality was 23-year-old Tom Rounds. The program director was Ron Jacobs. And the station was KPOI.  KPOI (AM 1380) was Hawaii's first all-rock 'n' roll radio station when it switched to that format in May 1959, a few months before statehood.  Jacobs was a prankster.  I wrote (on May 30, 2014) about two of his and Tom Moffatt's stunts with roller derby at the Civic Auditorium and Elvis Pres­ley.  Rounds had been a newsman at radio station WINS in New York. He was hired to do the same at KPOI, but Jacobs thought he should be one of the Poi Boys — the zany disc jockeys who played Top 40 around the clock. ‘I'll come up with a promotion to introduce you’, Jacobs promised him.  Jacobs' idea was to try to set a world record for staying awake for a little over eight days. The previous record was 201 hours, 10 minutes.  ‘No one had heard of the Guinness Book of World Records back then’, Jacobs said. ‘My idea was to put Tom Rounds in a department store window for eight days. We called it a ‘Wake-a-thon.'  The store he chose was Wigwam on Dillingham Boulevard across from the Oahu Community Correctional Center.  I'm sure many of my readers remember Wigwam, which had eight stores in the islands at one time and 35 in Washington, Cali­for­nia and Arizona.”  Later:  “When the eighth day came -- Tuesday, Dec. 8, 1959 -- a crowd of 200 greeted Rounds and cheered as he left the store after 203 hours, 44 minutes and 40 seconds.”

Ah, those great days of Top 40 promotions.  Tom Rounds and Ron Jacobs, I salute you!  And thanks, Scott.  Great story.  Wish I could print it all.  If only….

Ron Jacobs: Answering an earlier question about KPOI call letter origins:  “In 1959, the new owner of KHON-Honolulu was H. G. ‘Jock’ Fearnhead.  In 1958 he was ensconced as GM of WINS-New York, a pre-rock ratings monster.  The program director was Mel Leeds.  Jock, a Brit and a world traveller, loved Hawaii.  And sailing.  By late '58, Jock —never an on-air jock — was stressed out by the radio wars in the #1 US market.  Doctor advised him to get out of town ASAP.  KHON, Honolulu’s third oldest station (1946), was bankrupt and up for sale cheap.  Young Tom Rounds had managed the Amherst campus radio station.  His father knew Jock.  TR was hired as a WINS temp staff announcer for the duration of the big AFTRA strike.  Of course, he was gone the moment the Big Guys came back. They were not thrilled by their replacements.  I’ve heard they have a name for strike busters.  So Jock invited TR and his wife Rusty to come to Honolulu to work as PD on his about-to-be-licensed station in Paradise.  By 1958, I was the 18-year-old PD at KPOA-Honolulu.  The station was managed by Canadian Finlay T. ‘Fin’ Hollinger.  He bought 50% of the KHON/KPOI stock and moved into 1701 Ala Wai Boulevard as GM.  But ... ‘Fin’ had promised to name me as PD at the new place.  Fin was unaware of Jock's commitment to TR.  The day TR and I met he and I knew that he knew major market news operations and I knew the territory . (We were a Territory before the newly created Poi Boys signed-on in early 1959.)  TR and I quickly agreed that he would be News Director and I would be PD and morning drive jock.  I knew of WINS 1010 NY. Jock asked his PD Leeds to consult with me for the KPOI launch.  He was the one who used ‘wins’ as a word, not a station ID.  Aha!  Our new place was legally KPOI. Knowing four words in Hawaiian, Mel christened the station K-poi.  During the WINS-KPOI conferences, Stan Z. Burns and I met on the Trans-Pacific phone lines.  I invited him to visit K-poi’s office/studios, (conveniently two miles from the Waikiki Yacht Club!).  Stan and I were bachelors. Those days were both cool, simple and romantic, compared to today’s Oahu, with its traffic, crime, homeless, drugs, University of Hawaii a mess, and so on.  Stan arrived and we partied 50s style.  Oh, the sunsets, surf, skies of blue and lovely hula hands, plus our sweet, sweet local wahine. But now we are the cliché, ‘Paradise Lost’.”

I’ve finished the rewrite of “La Tigre” and hope to publish it as an eBook with Books in the next week or so.  Probably at $2.49.  I have appreciated the help of Bill Pearson, cover, and advice from Bruce Miller Earle and Woody Roberts.

Ed Lee:  “Ron Jacobs gave me your email address so I could ask to be put on your Commentary list.  I've followed Ron's career since 1977.  About the same time I started reading you column in Billboard.  We've been in contact by email and phone since 2007.  Finally meet in person, last year, when I had to be in Hawaii for one day.  That's my story with Ron.”

Mel Phillips:  “One of my former WRKO air personalities, Shadoe Stevens, has had an on-air tryout at classic Chicago rocker WLUP.  Why Shadoe would give up life in Hollywood is a mystery to me but I wish him all the luck he deserves, if he really wants to work and live in Chicago.  I mean it's of course a top 5 market but winters in Chicago can't be fun.  When Shadoe was at WRKO he was great on the air but I only had him for a couple of years before KHJ called.  For over 40 years, Shadoe has made Hollywood his home.  He went from KHJ to replacing Casey Kasem as host of ‘American Top 40’ and had a brief encounter with a TV sitcom, among his many show business ventures.  I doubt that anyone else trying out for WLUP has better credentials.  I wish Shadoe nothing but the best if this is really what he wants.”

Woody Roberts, Austin, TX, to the Three Mesquiteers: “This is a powerful ‘thank you’ speech packed with nostalgic memories.  I only wish Lee Baby Simms could be here to read it, he'd much appreciate Bob Dylan's comments.”                                                                             
Bob Sherwood:  “Dear Kindly Ol’ Uncle Claude:  I just finished your latest missive and if any of your readers didn’t have a lump in their throat or a tear in the eye after finishing Rob Moorhead’s wonderfully personal piece on George Wilson’s passing and Lee Baby’s tribute, they clearly never knew George, never heard Lee and must’ve been on the Planet Zoran w/o radios during the 1960s & 70s.  And they needn’t bother to check for a pulse. There is none.  Kudos to Gary Allyn for his wonderful and typically brilliant description and distillation of ‘Lee the talent’ and ‘Lee the man’.  In conclusion, if you ever attempt to follow-thru on your threat to discontinue your treasured weekly observations I’ll be in the forefront of those with pitchforks and torches descending on your manse to assure that you continue to deliver the information that you’re Constitutionally required to provide to your constituents.”

Roger Lifeset:  “Call it what you will it’s still The Evil Empire to me. Talk about iconic ... imagine if Murray the K was still with us. That’s how deep his legacy goes. You got to have Art’s ‘Old But Goodies’ volumes in your library or your R&R history is incomplete.  Art loved dedications from jail and East LA. He will return to the airwaves ... bet on it.”

Carl B. Peeples sent me a note that ‘Carl's Country Classics Radio’ is now on the air! And since Red Jones is the host, I’ve got to plug it.  Probably a great, great show.  Red and I go back a long ways … all of the way to KVET’s “Country Cavalcade,” Austin, TX, although we different a little on when.

Doc Wendell is a jazz/blues guitarist that Jack Roberts tipped me on.  “Check out my critique of Bob Dylan's new album which features nothing but Frank Sinatra covers.  You can't make this stuff up.”  Doc is a fine writer.  I’m pleased to have him around.

Barry O’Neil has recent sent me some lists.  Singles and albums.  Plus other written features.  I don’t know the deal on what he does, but if you’re interested, I’ll be more than willing to send you his email address.  His material seems interesting.  He may charge.  But we may have a budding treasure here.  Thank you, Barry.  You want me to describe more, send me an email.

Johnny Holliday:  “Claude. I will send you another update on Sal LiCata shortly… no improvement at all.  Can you forward me Larry Cohen's contact info … email or phone?”

The Hartford radio meeting has been called off, according to Hal Whitney.

Don Graham, later:  “Hi, Claude … we hope this note finds you well … I fully agree with Roger Lifeset … currently, more than 8,000 have signed an on-line petition to return Art Laboe to LA radio! … we can remember that 40 years ago we went to Art’s shows and dances at El Monte Legion Stadium here in LA … he will be back on the l air s-o-o-n!”

Jim Slone, once Mr. Country of Tucson:  “One of my favorite memories is the time I spent (two weeks) in Elko, NV, with The Shy Guys playing nightly at the Redwood Room of the Stockmen's Motor Inn … Jim Reeves and his band The Blue Boys were playing across the street at the Commercial Hotel.  I got to know Jim and he asked me occasionally at the end of the evening to sing a tune with his band.  I specifically remember singing ‘Send Me the Pillow You Dream on’, ‘Have I Told You Lately (That I Love You)’ and ‘Blue Blue Day’ (a hit at the time by Don Gibson).  After his show was over Jim and I would go into the coffee shop (for cherry pie alamode).  It was so much fun being with Jim and hearing some of his stories.  He has always been my favorite country singer.  He died in a private plane crash on July 31, 1964.  I was on the air at K-HOS Radio that Saturday morning when his plane went down.  I saw the news on the Associated Press news ticker at the radio station.  For years thereafter, I always played several of his songs on July 31 in his memory.  PS: one of the memorable things about Elko was eating the Basque food buffet style ... so delicious.”

I really like the stuff that Don Sundeen is turning out.  If I had a regular magazine/blog, I’d try to persuade him to be a regular contributor.  This is a piece he sent out in regards to an article by Neil McCormick about Gary Glitter, who, according to McCormick, “was a novelty pop star who was able to carry out his abuse amongst a Seventies rock culture of hedonism and groupies that no band rose above.”  Well, I know nothing about Gary Glitter.  I was more into the major rock and country acts, who often had their own hangups and woes.  I point out Roger Scutt, whose body was found in a trash dumpster in a Nashville alleyway (I have an album with him on the cover; he was known as Captain Midnight on the air).  But read what Don has to say.  Good stuff, Don!

Don Sundeen:  “One of the reasons that drugs, sex and rock and roll flourished was because of the invisible curtain of silence, you kept your mouth shut if you wanted to stay.  Backstage at a major rock concert was a rare privilege, something we could do that even those with a lot of money or power seldom got to experience.  The full-access backstage pass was the magic ticket to the Circus; groupies were of indeterminate ages, many had distinctive costumes, usually featuring corsets and stockings and stiletto heels, and would turn up at the Stage Door wearing a raincoat over their outfit until inside.  My favorite groupie story took place at a Jethro Tull concert: three chicks came in, looked around, and one of them said, “OK, which one’s Jethro?’  Just because you were cute and promiscuous didn’t mean you were a rocket scientist. Drugs of one kind or another were everywhere, some people indulged and some didn’t, but behind the barrier anything would go and the hired officers spent their time keeping the civilians out.  I used to return to the dressing room after escorting the band to the stage entrance, and while they were performing go back to the dressing room and enjoy their buffet and selection of beers, wine and liquor while listening to the music.  The bigger the artists name, the better the feast, and there was total security to keep the riffraff out.  But the real party would take place later at the hotel; sometimes we were invited and sometimes we weren’t, it depended on the band and whether they thought you were cool.  Yes, sometimes televisions were thrown out of upper story windows, most but not all into the pool, and rooms were definitely trashed. On one occasion a very famous drummer/singer dipped his shoes into paint and made a path up the wall and across the ceiling of a Holiday Inn; it cost quite a few dollars to fix that little prank, and was the cause of a big brouhaha between the artist’s management and the record company as to who would pay the substantial bill.  As father of a daughter I was sometimes bothered to see the young girls passed around like naked frisbees.  But not all parents were disapproving. One night the father of a very famous groupie (she was mentioned by name in a hit song), came backstage looking for his daughter and the doorman referred him to me, because she was ‘busy’ servicing my act at the moment.  I was very nervous that there was about to be an incident that could somehow come back to bite me in the butt, so I made some excuse and he said that he knew exactly what she was doing. Shocked I asked if he wasn’t really upset by her behavior and he said not really, ‘Her mother and I figure she’d never get to meet all these famous people, ride in limousines and travel around on jets otherwise’. I couldn’t argue with that logic. The fellow who sent me this piece and provides a lot of my content commented:
(Who among us, if shielded from the consequences of outrageous {or should I say outrageously amusing} behavior, can honestly say he would not indulge?)  If given the opportunity, would you have indulged?  We gave Seventies rock stars a license to behave badly.”

Never indulged.  My excuse was that I was a beer drinker.  Great item, Don.  But I remember walking into one hotel room in New York City (and quickly walking out) where there was a punchbowl full of cocaine).  The suite was being operated by, as I recall, Gary Davis, head of promotion for ABC Records.  The label didn’t last long.  Davis didn’t even last that long.

Bob Skurzewski, Elma, NY:  “Sometime back I sent Jack Roberts two copies of this CD by Tom Clay.  Because of his passing, it was never confirmed that he sent one copy on to you.  Don’t know if you care for Tom or not, but I found this to be an interesting piece of audio that was called a self bio.  Tom put together a series of airchecks together to make this CD.  In it he explains about his time in Buffalo and how he discovered Buddy Holly.  Gary Busse (sp) starred as Buddy in the movie.  There was a scene in which a Buffalo DJ locked himself in a studio, police banging on the door while the DJ, acting crazy, plays a song over and over again and calls Holly on the phone to tell him he’s a star.  While they used some fake name for the DJ in the movie, that was Tom Clay.  When some young person asks me about a career in radio, I first give them a funny look and ask why they would want to go in radio today.  If they seem sincere, I give them a copy of this self-bio and tell them to listen to it and try to accomplish some of the on-air things that Tom did.  Tom also mentions in the self-bio that he wishes he had an aircheck of some of the things in did on the air in Buffalo.  Through a friend, I sent him an aircheck of the on-air stunt he did as described in our book ‘No Stopping This Boppin’.  Tom passed away not long after he got the aircheck.”

Thank you for the Tom Clay CD.  I heard him on WCBS-FM and considered him something special.  When he came to Los Angeles, he brought me a copy of his book in mss. form.  Later, he rewrote it as fiction while earning a living tending bar at Martoni’s.  Never was able to get it published.  But somewhere in this house is the copy he gave me and I’m proud of it.  I liked Tom Clay.  Great radio personality.

Rick Frio:  “By now you must have heard the sad news of the passing of Sharon Nelson, a truly lovely person.  You probably have dozens of pictures of her, but I think this is one of the sweetest of her and captures her best.  This was taken around 1969 at the UNI Records office awarding Neil Diamond a gold record.  The young lady next to Neil is Jan Walner, who also worked for Bill Drake at KHJ.  We are losing too many of our old friends.”  From left in photo:  Rick Frio, MCA Records; Sharon Nelson of KHJ, Neil Diamond, Jan Wainer of KHJ, Los Angeles.

A note from Ron Jacobs pointed out that Sharon was assistant music director to the legendary Betty Brenneman.

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