April 6, 2015
Claude’s Commentary No. 58
By Claude Hall
Woody Roberts, quail country, Texas: “Howdy, Claude … there are four documentaries I believe anyone involved in Top 40 radio or the pop music business during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s otta check out. In chronological order, the first is a doc produced by A&E Biography Channel called ‘Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'N' Roll’. It is real hard to find but for awhile it's available on YouTube and here's the link -- https: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYcadYXsTyM
“Next is a must-see for people involved in the southern California of '50s and '60s, it is called ‘The Wrecking Crew’ and can be found on Amazon and other services. Third is ‘Muscle Shoals’, a film anyone in the business will more than enjoy. And the hit-making ‘Sound City’ picks up in the 70s and beyond. They're on DVD and can sometimes appear on Netflix. Having been a documentary student, willing to bet I've watched a hundred music docs by now, there are some great ones starting with ‘The Beatles: The First USA Visit’ and ‘Don’t Look Back’ … and forward into 2015.”
Long before I heard Elvis Presley on his initial appearance on the “Louisiana Hayride,” I caught a live show in the baseball park south of the lake in Austin, TX. Sonny James was the headliner. Gene Vincent was also on the bill. I would think that Vincent was shaking a leg, among other things, before Elvis shook a leg.
Tom Russell: “Claude! Once again I'm honored. What a great crowd of good people on your blog. This time I'm writing from a farm village in Switzerland, where my wife and I have a small place to chill out before we hit 33 dates in the USA in April, May, and June, with ‘The Rose of Roscrae’ tour. All dates are up on www.tomrussell.com ... then in the Fall we do the UK and Ireland. I was impressed that the great Bobby Vee is in your audience. I'm a big fan, and also a Bob Dylan fan, and I know Dylan played with Bobby Vee a short while in the early days. Pounding the piano. I implied some of this in my song ‘Mesabi’, about Dylan coming from
the Mesabi Iron Range of Minnesota, where ‘the duck tailed boys from St. Cloud pounded out their chords of fame … and that Armory show
where Buddy Holly sang – ‘The Learnin' of the Game’. (Before the plane went down.) What's great about your blog is the feedback from folks who helped bring the great songs out to the vast public … back when every song was a revelation. Keep up the great work. Thanks!
Bobby and Karen Vee lived up the street from 2800 Moraga in Bel Air, Los Angeles. For my housewarming party, I passed out flyers up and down the street under the belief that neighbors wouldn’t complain about the noise if they were there. Either Bobby or Mickey Dolenz tuned my Goya G10 (later stolen in Enid, OK, along with another beautiful Spanish guitar; I’ve never been able to replace them). Anyway, our kids played with the Vee kids and the families soon became good friends and still are.
Jay Lawrence: “Claude, I, too, would like to know where Bob Martin can be reached, also Jim Gallant. Two very important people in my career. By the way, every time you mention L. David, he was probably the most important person in my broadcast career. From Tucson to Los Angeles, to New York and finally Indianapolis. Thanks.”
I believe this business – music and radio – is the darnest business for mentoring. George Wilson always admitted to owing Jack Gale for his early radio gambits. And Gary Owens once told me of how he helped Joe Smith get into the record business when he first arrived in Los Angeles. Three men guided me during my early Billboard days – Music Editor Paul Ackerman, Talent Editor Mike Gross, and Coin Editor Aaron Sternfield. All good men and true.
John Barger: “A column idea ... 10 outrageous radio urban legends (tall tales) still believed and repeated today. Like who really invented Top 40 radio? ... even though all of us who worked for McLendon surely give him credit.”
I believe Todd Storz and Gordon McLendon must be given equal credit and I was told many times that there wouldn’t have been a Todd Storz and a Gordon McLendon without Bill Stewart, national program director under first one, then the other.
Clark Weber: “Hi, Claude: Wanted to give you and your readers the heads up on Ron Weisner’s new book, ‘Listen Out Loud!’ Ron, who at one time worked For MGM and Buddah Records back in the late 60s and early 70s, spins a great story about managing McCartney, Madonna and Michael Jackson. The book foreword is written by Gladys Knight and is replete with the names of people and places from that golden era. I think you’ll like it, I certainly did!”
Joey Reynolds has a blog! Really nice. Lord, but how many years have I been a Joey Reynolds fan? My wife, too. And my three sons. The first thing I can recall writing about him was in the one-shot magazine SoundMakers published by Billboard circa 1967. I thought I was going to get sued. But the first time I met him, as I recall, he wheeled his car into the curb of Sunset Boulevard, hopped out and introduced me and Barbara to his wife Carolyn and thanked me.
Dick Summer: “Lots of talk about jazz in your Commentary today. Good. Barb and I saw Herb Alpert Friday night. He's 80 years old, and all that wonderful experience glows. He had a keyboard guy and a drummer with him ... and he had a musical hydrogen bomb with him that blew me out of my seat. He worked the whole gig with a mute in his horn, and you could see that he was prodding the keyboard and the drums to step it up ... and oh my God did they ever. Quick aside: In the early 60s, his A&M Records subsidiary (Omen Records) released an LP of the material called lovin touch that I was doing on my radio show. It was moderately successful. Herb told a story that puts it in perspective. He said, ‘There was a musical group in the early 60s that wanted us to publish their stuff, and looking back I guess we should have signed them. They called themselves, The Beatles’. (Win some/lose some as they say.) Oh, yeah ... the explosion that tossed me out of my seat: Loni Hall is his wife of 41 years. As you remember, she was the very excellent lead singer with Brazil 66. She did a couple of numbers that sizzled. But the thing that konked me was simply the way she looked at her guy. The only other time a woman ever looked at her man like that happened to me ... a long time ago ... in studio 2B at NBC radio. I hope every woman in the audience was taking copious notes.”
Sometimes, a man just gets enormously lucky and the right woman finds him. That picture of you, Dick, and your wife. Cute! As for my Barbara, I’ve never been able to figure out why she married me. She was Park Avenue. And, though I professed to be a Mexican bandido, I was strictly a Brady redneck, now converted.
Lani Bennett, New Orleans: “Just one among many who so loved your Commentary! Married to Buzz Bennett for about 7 years was my opportunity to be exposed to the most spectacular of industries ... the Radio & Music world. I love reading all about the glory days ... and indeed, for all the crazy sex, drugs & rock & roll ... it was an era never to be forgotten. Thank you for all you do ... and for all who participate. Lots of Love.”
True, this column is naught without you guys. That’s why I love you all!
Ken Dowe: “Sent this (Commentary) to my closest friend, 777 Captain who flies only internationally. He's in Kuwait City now with protecting guards outside his hotel room. ‘I don't want an orange jump suit’. You've hooked another fan for Tom Russell. The reference to being homesick has to do the ranch house he built atop the highest point in Erath County, Texas, where the Hill Country begins. Certified ... cowboy country.”
Dowe’s buddy emailed him: “I'm in Kuwait today and I have been listening to some of his music. Makes me more homesick than usual for ‘Quail Mont’ and the view off my back porch!”
Ken Dowe replied and copied me: “Since you have been crying into your non-alcoholic O'Doul's there in Kuwait City, I thought I'd offer a professional hand and assist your selections of Tom Russell's Cowboy Collection of Song(s) of the West. As you scroll through the iTunes Store, I suspect you'll find the following will take you straightaway to your West Texas mountain top. These are my starters and there's not a single bad choice. Not in order of preference, although I like best “Tonight We Ride (the theme of the Dumas Regulators). I enjoy great ‘lines’ and lyrics. Such as the beginning of a Hemingway chapter from ‘A Moveable Feast’: ‘The only thing that could ruin a good day was people’. But, don't you hate how Papa H would run on and on? So verbose.
“Tom Russell had a new fan from: ‘Black Jack Pershing on a dancing horse’, ‘Hard luck's the only hand I ever drew’, ‘She was a debutant. Now she's a penitent. On Ash Wednesday’, ‘Holy people in an unholy time’, ‘We strayed a little too close to the edge. We got burned. Heading for the church at the end of the line,’ ... and others.
“Songs: ‘Llano Estacado’, ‘Love Abides’, ‘Katy’, ‘South Coast’, ‘Ash Wednesday’, ‘St. Olav's Gate’, ‘Claude Dallas’, ‘The Sound of One Heart’, ‘Gallo Del Cielo’, ‘Alkalai’, ‘Navajo’, ‘It Goes Away’, ‘Veteran's Day’ w/Johnny Cash, ‘Dance Hall Girls’, ‘Outward Bound’, ‘The Man From God Knows Where’, ‘Hallie Lonnigan’, and ‘Mary Clare Malloy’. (These last two will put you in touch with your Scots-Irish blood.) This is a good beginning. I'll add more when I've tired others with these. My friend Claude has mentioned several of that are his favorites.
“You're only hours from climbing into the Captain's seat of your 777, sandblasting away from Kuwait City, and back home. No west-with-the-wind this trip. Sorry. Maybe you'll have time to get familiar with some cowboy songs and mentally prepare to be a ranch hand again ... for a few days, ‘where the west begins’."
And Ken Dowe signed his note to the Captain: Kit Carson. And I wrote the Captain and Kit Carson and sent them “A Little Wind Will Blow Me Away,” which I always thought should have been No. 1 on the Hot 100 Chart.
Tom Russell, Switzerland: “Claude. I love it! Yes, I co-wrote ‘A Little Wind Will Blow Me Away’, with Peter Case. I also co-wrote ‘Beyond the Blues’ with Peter Case and Bob Neuwirth (Dylan's old cohort). Springsteen used to sing the song at song checks. I got a very nice note from Springsteen once, beneath my door in Brooklyn circa 1995 … praising ‘Gallo del Cielo’, my song. Never met him in person. Dylan also digs the song … weird where songs will go. Ian Tyson recorded it in 1983 … he's 81 years old now and just sent me a link to his new record coming out soon. He wrote the most popular song ever in Canada, ‘Four Strong Winds’. We co-wrote ‘Navajo Rug’, which was a radio hit for him in 1987. What's great is hearing back from these sage radio folks who are still moved by songs and songwriting … it gives me some hope!”
Jim Slone, Tucson: “Ken Dowe mentioned Willie Nelson back in the 60s in the KLIF studio. I was a DJ in Albuquerque in 1962 ... Willie came through town with Shirley Collie (ex-wife of Biff Collie, big-time DJ in Houston) ... Willie and Shirley had a record out on Liberty titled ‘Willingly’ ... went top ten … they came by KRZY and were promoting the record as well as their appearance at The Hitching Post (Glen Campbell's old stomping grounds). Willie was all duded out in a skinny tie, nice suit, good haircut … reminds me of the Mad Men series. He was looking good! Willie and Shirley married in 1963. Shirley passed away several years ago at age 78.”
Scott St. James: “Sweet column, but upon reflection, which of your Commentaries aren't sweet? At this end I've been going through the toughest flu bug I've ever been hit with. 5+ weeks and counting. And I'm not the only one in these here parts who's fighting the good fight. The thing that's so great about your Commentaries is that we are given the time to smile every Monday. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to Number 58.”
Robert E. Richer: “As there seems to be a more than average mention of Jazz in your current edition, I wanted to point out the recent passing of Orrin Keepnews, one of the great men in the field of Jazz records. Orrin was partner with Bill Grauer in Riverside Records, which was instrumental in developing and recording some of the greats in Jazz, including Thelonius Monk, Chet Baker, the Adderly brothers, Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, etc., etc. I had the good fortune of being a small shareholder in Riverside, and also functioned as sales manager. As a sidebar, for car buffs, we produced the great ‘Sound of Sebring’ records, but Orrin eschewed any involvement in that labor of love. Los Angeles Times 3 weeks ago:
Orrin Keepnews dies at 91; Grammy-winning jazz producer, historian
Marlin Taylor: “Regarding the Mel Phillips/WOR story ... when I arrived at WRFM in early 1969, I quickly learned a negative we'd need to address was the confusion between WOR-FM and WRFM. Of course, the WOR call letters were legendary and well-known, even if the fame came from the AM. Compare that to WRFM, which at the time was lodged at # 23 in the Arbitron, just ahead of WHOM-FM, which I believe was still airing Chinese programming -- yes, there were only 24 stations listed in the Big Apple Arbitron at that time. Until our FM dial cards and word-of-mouth publicity about our improved programming began to make an impact, we carefully emphasized the ‘R’ in our call letters and our frequency, ‘105’. There's another part of this story ... which I'll share at another time.”
Woody Roberts: “I remembered the room I was in on the day I heard Chad Oliver had died, but couldn't recall the year. So looked it up. Were it not for the web I would never be able to find this information: Chad Oliver born in 1928 passed on in August of 1993. His first novel ‘Mists of Dawn’ was published in 1952 and he had four other SF novels, last was published in 1971. He turned to the western genre and had four novels published. Won an award for ‘Broken Eagle’ and I recall how excited he was. Here is a list, the last book was in the publishing house when he died:
The Wolf Is My Brother (1967)
The Shores of Another Sea (1971) -- first contact, anthropological SF.
Giants in the Dust (1976)
Broken Eagle (1989)
The Cannibal Owl (1994)
He also had three short story collections published. Among the mainstream writers and self-professed literary historians in Austin, sadly, Chad Oliver goes unrecognized.”
Ah! And no one remembers, I would surmise, Tom Lea and J. Frank Dobie, and Robert E. Howard and O’Henry (who has a “home” in Austin. Barbara and I have visited the frame shack museum dedicated to O’Henry and the home of Mark Twain and his “study” in Elmira, NY, and the “grave” of W.H. Lawrence and the home of Louis L’Amour when he was alive ….
Bob Sherwood: “OK, Kindly Uncle Claude … a mild rant to follow: go to your collection and pull out Linda Ronstadt’s ‘Feels Like Home’ CD from 1995 and listen to ‘The Blue Train’. It is a great song fabulously performed and exquisitely produced by she and the brilliant George Massenburg. It is a hit recording. But, aside from a few braves souls at AC, it was never played! The CD also contains a great version of Randy Newman’s ‘Feels Like Home’ and a special version of Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush’ wherein she alters her voice to give the song a unique treatment. And nobody heard it! Because radio had decided she was ‘over’. It’s been 20 years and I’m still pissed! And then I recall that about 19 years earlier I was three years removed from radio and # 2 in promotion at Columbia and we unbelievably blew one of the greatest rock love songs of all time ‘I Could Never Leave You’. It also had a gut-wrenching performance by Mike Finnegan and we still lost it. And with it, his pop career. Thank God he made it in country. Never mind.
I hurt – and hurt bad – when a great song doesn’t make it. Sad!
Ernie Hopseker: “I am quite happy that a Texan like Ken Dowe has discovered Tom Russell. Those of us who have found him go through the musical transformation, and are never the same. Tom is multi-dimensional, and don't get fooled by his country persona. He embodies Charles Bukowski, Woody Guthrie, Ian Tyson, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and a plethora of multi-talented, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual poets and musicians. He really is multi-national, living in Switzerland and El Paso. His wife Nadine, is Swiss, but is also Doug Sahm's God-daughter. His live shows are magic, and when he comes to your neighborhood, I recommend going to see him. All I can say, is get to know his music, and then get to know Tom. Buy every song you can find (Frontera Records), listen to them closely, and you will be transformed. I am happy to call him a friend.”
Ernie Hopseker, a veteran radio man, is the person who introduced me to the music of Tom Russell. I will be forever grateful. My son John A. Hall, Esq., caught his act once at McCabe’s in LA and is also a huge fan.
Don Sundeen: “Couple of things. Last week you mentioned that you'd heard that Ira ‘Eye’ Lipson was famous. Indeed he was very prominent in AOR radio back in the day, because he created Dallas' iconic Album Rock, or ‘underground’, Radio Station, KZEW, ‘The Zoo’. From its Elephant Logo to it's tasty music library, promos and great low key disc jockeys, everything Eye did was innovative and new on the nascent FM band. There were certainly other stations in the country, like Tom Donohue's, KSAN, in San Francisco, with similar format's, but Eye's branding was ground-breaking. KZEW bumper stickers were everywhere, identifying the car's owner as a, ‘Zoo Freak’. All this took place barely a decade after the Kennedy assassination in a very conservative town. Coincidentally, there will be a gathering of folks from far and wide celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Zoo on Saturday, April 25th. It should be a great party, and my friend Eye Lipson will once again rule as the ‘Zoo Keeper’. On another note, I'm happy to announce that Bob Shannon is doing 20 Questions with the great Ken Dowe on our blog, TheDonRocks, this week. Ken's storied radio career includes being the top-rated morning man at giant Top 40, KLIF, Dallas, Programming Executive for Gordon McLendon's chain of radio stations, and owner of his own group of stations. Ken has had a successful and fascinating life, and Bob's probing questions can get very interesting answers. If you haven't sampled
Bob Skurzewski: “This is the invite that I got. I will not be there. Not because of Joey but other complicated issues. I hope somebody local will report. Art Wander might be there. Dan Neaverth may also be there. Knowing of Joey, he might even respond. Danny Neaverth and Joey go back some with KB Radio and those cult following singles they on Swan Records. Dan was 3 to 7 PM and Joey followed 7 to midnight. The changeover they did each night has a cult following and people are always trying to find tapes of the adlib's they did. They were funny. I think I only have one and found it during a trade I made with somebody years back. I don't have all the air checks of Buffalo radio people but I do have a decent cross section of well known and unknown voices that came and stayed or came and went from Buffalo. Stay well.”
Bob Taylor, Bob Taylor Voice Productions: “I was an avid fan of Bob Skurzewski's Bflo-Off the Air monthly digest. He told me about yours and suggested I talk to you about putting a blurb in it for me. I and my partner and good friend Harv Moore formerly of WPGC in Washington, had a morning show at WPhd in Buffalo throughout the 80s named ‘The Taylor & Moore Show’. (www.TaylorAndMoore.com) I'm still in voice over business and looking for something special. I'd like to find someone (Old School probably) who could help me design and build a SONOVOX. The voice changing device from the 40's and 50's that PAMS used in jingles back then. I want to build one (or even buy one if there's one for sale out there). I need to speak to an engineer / builder / designer who would be willing to help. Please put me on your weekly mailing list, and if possible put my request in it when you can.”
Johnny Holliday, Larry Cohen, and I, a ragnot and a half, have been carrying on a cute diatribe about basketball. No room to feature the stuff here, but maybe I’ll do a “special issue” or something. All depends on time and energy. Quien sabe? The notice below is courtesy of Danny Davis. Good on you, Danny.