Today at 8:20 AM
May 25, 2015
Claude’s Commentary No. 65
By Claude Hall
Foreword by Woody Roberts
I have many excuses for being out of touch, rain took out my DSL for days, and my dog ate the modem. And even though I'm retarded, I mean ... retired (OK I stole that line from Gary Owens), every once in awhile someone phones so I recently got caught up in helping the Armadillo World Headquarters Artists with their poster auction and a close friend with some outdoor concerts. I'd like to flashback to Commentary No. 61 and Joey Reynolds' remark: "Hey, Claude, Willie Nelson looks older than us; that's cause he is. Lots of mileage on the old salty dog...."
Well, speak for yourself Joey, t’was just the end of April Willie turned 82 and believe it or not I actually know a guy a tad older -- who also has a lot of mileage on him ;) Speaking of Willie, I was there when he was born. It happened in 1973. I had just tossed away my radio career when I got a desperate call from the producers of the first Willie Nelson Picnic. They were two weeks out and hadn't sold any tickets and a similar event with Willie in the same cattle pasture a year before had bombed big time. This time Willie was paying for it and calling it his picnic and hired Armadillo World Headquarters aka AWHQ to produce it.
RCA had dropped him and Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records had discovered Austin music and decided to open a country division. He signed Willie and Doug Sahm and they got two albums before the country idea was dropped. Wexler also recorded Freda and the Firedogs but never released their album. Willie moved to Central Texas where he could work the country dancehalls that made him a lot of money and he then moved to Austin where he discovered the new cosmic cowboy/progressive country scene. He saw college kids and the children of his dancehall patrons filling nightclubs to see Michael Murphy, Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker. Willie already smoked pot and soon grew his hair and beard and got booked into AWHQ and came up with his picnic idea.
My promotion strategy was obvious by today's standards but a bit revolutionary 42 years ago. I pulled all the ad money from country radio but for a three stations (one being the Bill Mack all-night show out of Ft Worth). I wrote the ads, had them produced at San Antonio rocker KEXL-FM and put them on Top 40 and progressive FM formats. Those DJs did not know Willie Nelson form Hank Snow. I found out Leon Russell, who was trying to capture the country audience with his “Hank Wilson's Back” album, was going to co-host on the 4th but could not be advertised. I put together a PR team and we continually worked Leon’s name through DJ word-of-mouth and album givaways and since Doug Sahm's Atlantic album had Bob Dylan on it, we simply told each radio station that as far as we knew there was no truth to the rumor Bob Dylan would be at the Picnic. Well in week a Woodstock fervor had been stirred up and who knows how many really showed up that 4th of July as the ticket boxes fell early and security parameter was abandoned. Estimates went as high as 80,000, ticket boxes went down at 17,000. Willie found himself nationally launched to a new young record buying audience, but financially could only pay his Picnic co-stars like Sammy Smith and Kris Kristofferson $500 each.
Then I was involved in creating the pilots for PBS’ “Austin City Limits” and Willie was booked on both pilots, pre-his “Red Headed Stranger” LP. In '78 Buzz Bennett contacted me to write a programming piece for the FRED annual so I wrote about this guy Willie Nelson about to burst on the pop music scene and interviewed him ... Willie had played a premix version of his soon-to-be-released Stardust LP for me, it went multi-platinum. In 1986, Farm Aid II on 4th of July had huge equipment and VH1@ trucks rolling toward Austin and was one week out when Willie lost use of the UT Longhorn Stadium so was homeless, I got him moved to Manor Downs where Stevie Ray Vaughan's management company was housed. Doz were the daze, my friend.
Attached you'll find a historic 1972 pre-Picnic poster of an AWHQ event with Willie, Steve Frumholz, Kenneth Threadgill, many others, for just $2.
More to come, on your wonderful books, etc. Very best always to you.
Like quite a few others, Woody, I’m proud to have you as a friend. Great item on Willie. I received a phone call in the 70s from Jerry Wexler at the Billboard office at 9000 Sunset Blvd. Like Jerry, my mentor had been Billboard Music Editor Paul Ackerman. I think this gave me a bond, if feeble, with Jerry. Certainly, I admired his music abilities. Jerry said he was in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills and had some news. I quickly hopped into the MG that I owned in those days (remember Gary?) and sped out Sunset and valet parked. Jerry was with his wife Shirley and she was mad. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was probably trying to save her marriage. Later, I saw Jerry with a young girl and figured Shirley had failed. They were dining in the garden. Jerry said he’d signed Willie Nelson to the Atlantic label. “And I almost signed Waylon. They are old dopers like me.” It seemed that Atlantic was launching a country music division. The manager of Waylon Jennings had fouled up Jerry’s plans by signing him again to RCA. I was aware that Willie’s new LP was promoted mostly on FM. Atlantic promotion men were constantly at FM stations. My compliments, Woody Roberts! As the world knows, the new image of Willie Nelson worked. Just FYI, I reviewed the first couple of albums by Waylon and Willie. I picked them. But RCA wasn’t really aware of what they had, I guess. I also picked the phenomenal “outlaw” LP. Does anyone remember the third act on the LP?
George Jay Weinbarg: “Hi, Claude! I had an on-line chat with MG Kelly a couple of years ago. He is still out in Los Angeles. I presume you're talking about Gary Stevens/MG Kelly? He's the same man and one of the original super jock staff from Lee Abrams' original ‘station that never was’, WICV in Chicago, along with Rob Walker, Gary Gears, Beau Weaver, Tommy Kramer and Jim Channel. Sonny Fox and Don Cox joined us later when we took much of the staff to Cleveland and another John Tenaglia General Cinema Corporation station, WGCL. I was Lee's national news director, and at 21 the youngest ND in the country at a major market station. Lee tells the story here:”
Randy West: “Just a quick note to tell you how thoroughly I'm enjoying your weekly radio roundtable and Commentary. It's reminiscent of your Vox Jox, but with a greater depth and insight into our personal lives. While I know some of your subjects (blame Joey Reynolds for me being in the biz!) at a mere 61 years old, the information on some of the icons in the firmament (Storz, Randle, McLendon, et al) is the kind of stuff I thirsted for as a young punk DJ, ‘spinning the tables and reading the labels’. I encourage you to share all that early insight into the birth of Top 40; the minutia matters to us passionate ‘kids’ in our 60s! Keep up the great work, and add my thanks to the chorus of appreciative voices!
P.S. Great photo of Don Graham (circa 1900!) today at LARadio.com - Don Barrett's great site.”
I saw the photo. Great! I started to steal it and then thought not. But I was envious that Barrett had printed it. Oh, well … as Gary Owens used to say.
Chuck Dunaway: “Don Keyes was a great implementer of stolen ideas. Don always said steal a great idea and ‘make it your own’. He was quiet and one of the nicest Programmer’s I’ve ever encountered. I don’t believe I ever got a critique from Don or Bill Stewart for that matter. I last spoke to Don in Ohio about 35 years ago. He had interest in a couple of radio stations in Ohio. He was happy and I was about to leave Ohio to come home to Texas.”
Elliot Field: “Be not in the dark re: Don Keyes. Gordon was a great jokester. That takes nothing away from Don. He was loyal, courteous, kind, obedient, climbed more than one tower, played more than one station, ever ready, ever true and almost ever present. Plus, who do you say drove? Son & heir Bart? Don't misunderstand. I owe a great deal to Gordon. I feel I brought a great deal to Gordon. ‘Billie, please page me at Love Field’."
John Barger: “Claude, I worked under Don Keyes my first stint with Gordon McLendon (as PD of WYSL in Buffalo). Keyes was outstanding. He understood how to transform Gordon's ideas into action, and Gordon never second-guessed him on the implementation. It made for the perfect two-man team, and Gordon knew it.”
Jay Lawrence: “I did afternoon drive for Don Keyes at KLIF. When Buddy McGregor left for Houston, Don hired me from WIRL, Peoria, IL … Bill Morgan was manager at that time and each time Keyes left town to some other McLendon station, Morgan would fire me. Keyes would return to Dallas and would rehire me. Don had the trust of Gordon. We all have Gordon stories from the ‘My Dog Buddy’ film to his film commercials which he wrote and produced and voiced. I remember his favorite open, Dramatically, ‘her lithe young body’, etc., etc. I'll also remember McLendon's election coverage. He had a metal ashtray and a pencil. He'd bang the pencil on the ashtray and yell ‘Bulletin, bulletin’. I guess we could all write books about Gordon McLendon and L. David Morehead, two of the most important people in my broadcast career. By the way, I just finished my first session as a state representative here in Arizona and have been invited to do a weekly talk show on a regional network.”
A weekly talk show? Great on you, Jay! And great, too, about the political career. Proud to know you!
Bob Sherwood: “For those who may not have have already heard, the legendary music-lover, record industry exec, exceptional human being and artist once known as ‘Smooth Lundvall’ has died. As many of you knew Bruce suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had been in a special care facility for some time. If there was someone more respected and beloved by those who worked for and with him the name doesn’t spring immediately to mind. Respectfully, God bless you Bruce.”
We come, we do, we go. A tremendous record man.
Bill Desing: “Claude, I know you’re a fan of Frank Ward (as am I). Listened to him along with Tom Clay, Bruce Bradley and Dick Purtin as all were Guy Kings at WWOL in Buffalo. I think he influenced every young radio wanna be (even Joey Reynolds) He was smooth. Don't know if you have this or not but here is an aircheck. I have a few other samples from about the same time let me know if you want them. I'm the guy named Bill who sent you the Stan Freberg stuff. Keep up the good work.
Frank Ward – Guy King, WWOL
My sincere appreciation, Bill. I am, indeed, a fan of Frank Ward … Barbara and I visited him and his wife at their new home in Connecticut. Heard him on the weekend he sat in at WNEW. Blended records so well! I think the Magnificent Montague also had this talent, but not as good as Frank Ward. Frank Ward was something else!
Chuck Chellman: “Always good hearing from you and your friends, Claude. I loved reading about Billboard’s Bill Williams … Audrey Williams was a complete other story … a real nutcase. Going on about Bill Williams, I was doing independent promotion out of Nashville. During a golf tournament, a tournament entitled, Chuck Chellman/Georgia Twitty Radio Invitational. The tournament ran for 14 years. All the big stars, too many to mention, played in the tournament. No freebies. Everybody paid so we could keep down the price for DJs who were on limited income. About 10 years into the event, I decided to do a Country Music DJ Hall of Fame. The first person I spoke with was Bill Williams and later Don Pierce, owner of Starday Records. Both agreed to keep it confidential and we met for an entire year before I kicked off. It was, and still is, the highlight of the CRS … always sold out! Radio disc jockeys built our industry. Keeping with Billboard, the country charts were put together in Cincinnati where the book was printed. Wonderful Bill Sachs was the Country Editor. Legendary writer/band leader Pee Wee King (‘Tennessee Waltz’, ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’, etc.) and I helped Bill put together the country radio stations that would make up the chart. The country music chart also contained key record stores and one-stops … Billboard is still good today but lacks the charm of all you guys … Bill Williams, Paul Ackerman, Bill Sachs and Claude Hall. I am also proud that I helped Bill & Janet Gavin compile the country stations for the Gavin Report. The rest is history and I am so blessed to have known you all mentioned. P.S. Radio today really sucks!!”
I printed a photo of Russ Regan, Rick Frio, and Pat Pipolo last week and heard back from Russ Regan: “Claude, it was my honor to know you. You were one of the top writers for Billboard magazine and you still have it, I enjoy your Commentary every week, keep up your great work. Much love and respect.”
Bob Piava: “Loved reading about Mickey Addy. He took me to dinner one night at Vesuvio with a couple he introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Mills. The dinner was hilarious. Mrs. Mills was a funny lady and she and Mickey traded quips all evening. It was only after the Mills had left that Mickey clued me in ... Mrs. Mills was Edie Adams (ex-Mrs. Ernie Kovacs). What a great memory.”
Timmy Manocheo: “I went to that website that El Conejo wrote to you about last week, and immediately ordered his new LP release. VINYL! Can you believe it? I'm ecstatic about this! Not only is there a new record unearthed from the vaults of some record company, (Rhino or Atlantic, or whoever) but it's pressed on good old fashioned, supreme quality VINYL! The website kindly sent me a status report for my order; they notified me of the special pressing they are producing exclusively for ME!!! The album will be shipped shortly after Memorial Day. ALSO, they sent me a link to DOWNLOAD the entire thing for FREE, just because they are such nice sweet fellows & gals, and they appreciate their customers. I can hardly wait. Jimmy Rabbitt & Renegade only released one solitary album, back in the mid-70s, it was on Capitol Records. I was one of thousands who originally bought that back then. It was & still is a classic. Now, after all these decades, a second album. I have attached a track (MP3) from El Conejo's newest release for you to enjoy, and share w/ whomever you like, so promo the hell out of it, Claude. Yer pal in Cal.”
I always enjoyed Jimmy.
Ken Dowe: “Hi, Claude … Thanks for the nice mention. I promised you a word about our mutual friend, Bill Stewart. Your column came as my reminder. And, please forgive, but even this treatise is a disservice to the man Bill Stewart was … to me … and to the radio industry. First, with regard to Don Keyes, Don was close to Gordon McLendon’s age and they were pals. He was winding down his years with McLendon not so long after I arrived during the early ‘60s and had been with Gordon almost from the beginning. Don was a marvelous announcer and the two of them authored and recorded many of the great and iconic early KLIF promos. Gordon was a network-calibre announcer, of course. He could have done the nightly network news with the best of the most celebrated. I’d have put my money on Gordon in a race for who was best. Don, was the perfect aide-de-camp in those early years. He left McLendon on good terms to buy an AM, in Canton, OH.
“Most of those of us who date to the early years of rock ’n’ roll know the story of Todd Storz listening to jukeboxes in Omaha playing the same songs over and over. Then, putting his radio station on the air after that lesson. Nobody ever mentions Bill Stewart being there with Todd. But, he was Todd’s Program Director and was Todd’s equal in the decision to convert KOWH in Omaha to all hits. KOWH was first to air Top 40 as a format. Todd deservedly gets credit for being the first with the breakaway format on his station. But, Bill was with him all the way. Storz stations were highly popular all over the nation. Bill was there. The creators of Top 40 and rock ‘n’ roll radio were in fact a triumvirate. It is reported that Todd invented it, and Gordon perfected it. That is pretty much on target. However, it’s not the (always untold) rest of the story. Top 40 Radio was made whole from the beginning, and the third person of the trinity, was an outlier. Bill Stewart.
“Bill was there when the new radio world exploded, and with Gordon (who hired Bill away from Todd) to add the contests, the bizarre promotions, as keepers of the flame that created a national world-of-mouth, with Storz stations succeeding wildly, and McLendon’s legendary KLIF quickly becoming the template of Top 40 and other McLendon formats. It was no coincidence that the flamboyant style and confidence of the Storz and McLendon stations ... were shepherded by Bill Stewart. I didn’t know Todd Storz, but I certainly knew of his success in market after market. I know that Bill Stewart had a hand in that, and I know that Bill Stewart was invaluable to Gordon in helping create stations that totally dominated their markets. Not just Top 40, either. Number one legends like KABL, an outrageously successful San Francisco easy listening (AM!) had the mark from Bill Stewart’s early days at KLIF. Just different music. I could always hear Gordon and Bill even in that format during my business calls to KABL.
“I came to KLIF from Kent Burkhart’s remarkable WQXI in Atlanta in 1963, and stayed until I was hired by the ‘Living Legend’ Pat O’Day to work for him, Lester Smith, and Danny Kaye. A year or so later, KLIF had lost their incredibly successful ‘Charlie & Harrigan’ morning show when Ron Chapman turned his radio successes into the same stardom on television. Gordon ... and Bill ... had been attempting to create a new morning show for KLIF to continue Ron’s incredible achievements. ‘What about Ken”? Bill asked Gordon. Gordon’s response was, ‘I think we need two people’. Bill answered: ‘Ken IS two people’. Which is how ‘Ken & Granny’ became a terrific experience for me, personally and professionally.
“Bill had guts, too. I don’t know how many times Gordon fired him, but Bill never held back his opinions. The best example I always use is the morning Gordon’s always volatile father (Mr. Mac) telephoned me after I had finished doing 3 hours on the air with Dick Van Dyke, then the nation’s #1 television star. I was euphoric, until Bill, Al Lurie the GM and I were invited to depart the studio for Mr. Mac’s office. He seated us, and began to glow red. His almost dwarf-like bull dog appearance looking more and more like intentions to rip the three of us apart with his teeth. Mr. Mac proceeded to reprimand me severely for ‘daring’ to put Dick on my show when he was principally in town to promote his movie. I doubled down on my stupid gene and stammered that I had not realized the film was playing at a theater other than one of the Dallas McLendon theaters. He went nuts. Bow tie spinning, spit flying, with the filfiest language a drill sergeant ever screamed, after beginning with: ‘You didn’t realize!! You didn’t what?’ Then, in-between spittle curses he told me how much he and Gordon had thought of me, how smart I was, and then … ’To pull such a STUPID stunt’. Then, he went for Al’s throat. Another 5 minutes of ranting and raving, finishing up by saying he’d told Gordon that just because he was a Harvard graduate didn’t mean he had the brains to run one of his stations! It was BRUTAL. As the dust settled, and the steam was drifting out of Mr. Mac’s heated ears … Bill … bless his heart … and guts said: ‘I still think it was a wonderful idea, Mr. Mac. And, a tremendous show this morning’. The old man locked eyes with Bill ... began sputtering nothings … then cursing ... unmercifully ... following his first insulting retorts: ‘YOU! YOU! (putting his finger almost up Bill’s nose) I EXPECTED THAT FROM YOU … YOU STUPID S.O.B’. Followed by more of the worst language I'd ever heard. Then, ‘Get out! Now! Get out of my building!!’ Bill put his hand around my shoulders as we walked up the street back to the KLIF studios, and said: ‘Well, guess that’s it for you old buddy. That’s usually what happens after one of these tsunamis. But, I gotta tell you … it was a helluva show this morning!’ Guts!
“And, I didn’t get fired. The old man actually loved me thereafter. Maybe it was because a week later I ordered a hot dog eating contest at McLendon’s World’s Largest Drive-in Theater to break a Guinness record. Mr. Mac stood by his car and said: ‘Now, that’s using your head for something besides a hat rack, my boy. I want you take this ... and invite that pretty little wife of yours out to dinner’. He slapped a hundred dollar bill in my hand, and I said: ‘Gee, thanks, Mr. Mac. You don’t have to do that’. ‘Don’t you tell me what I have to do!’ Still stupid.
“There are too many stories to attempt if I were to explain all Bill’s attributes. First, he was not everybody’s cuppa tea. He married Marlene, from New Orleans. When I last saw her she was still one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known. The first morning of the honeymoon, Bill told Marlene that he had one improvement he needed to undertake. Marlene had a New Orleans accent. Uh oh. So, Bill hired a professional voice coach for her, and she still has voice as beautiful as is she. I told you … Bill never held back. And, I said … he had guts! He was extraordinarily intelligent and while he instructed much like your toughest college professor, he was certainly the finest teacher in the world. EVERY morning part of my job was to have breakfast with him after my show’s completion. At nine o'clock across the street from KLIF, where he gave me pop quizzes: ‘Why did you not mention___?’ ‘What made you think ___ was funny?’ ‘While did you go on so long about___?’ ‘Didn’t it occur to you that___?’ It was embarrassing and enlightening. Also, humbling.
“Most of what I did and said after Bill left and Gordon took me off the air to become the Corporate Executive VP are direct quotes learned from Gordon and Bill, or I am paraphrasing one or the other. No one did detail like Bill. The immensely creative Gordon McLendon is the only genius I have ever known, but Bill and Gordon shared a mutual intensity and grasp for ideas, were each possessed of uncommon judgment, and both able to perceive and reason brilliantly. To me that goes beyond the range and limits of IQ. Memorize enough poems and the like and you’ll have a fine IQ. The kind of intelligence Gordon and Bill had was that which I use to measure ‘smart’. These really were, the smartest guys in the room. The systematic instruction I received during the years I was fortunate to spend with them, certainly transcended any formal education I might have once thought superior.
“Sorry for the length, but Bill deserves far more. Even a book. But, mostly to be remembered in equal parts with Todd and Gordon. Todd, Gordon, Bill ... the men who saved radio (from new and more exciting TV) and created radio ... as we know it today. I knew Bill. I was there. As were you, Claude.”
Kent Kotal: “If you haven't heard, Wally Clark ‘officially’ announced his retirement from "the public eye" this week at the ripe young age of 84. We're running a short piece in Forgotten Hits today and would love to follow it up with a few comments and/or memories. Feel free to pass this along in your newsletter and have interested parties contact me.”
Click here: Forgotten Hits
Jorj Bauer: “Searching the internet for traces of my uncle – I am Marty's nephew, and am a photographic artist, based in Philadelphia – I stumbled across your Commentary from 2013:
Damned if that one quote doesn't fit him to a tee. I can hear it in his flat tones and see it with that wide smile of his. Thanks for name-dropping someone that isn't a celebrity to most, but certainly is to me. You gave me a great opportunity to reflect upon his character.”
Marty Iger was a good friend and a phenomenal photographer. I still have a book or two of his photos. He specialized in aerial work, but I have a book, I believe, of the life of ants. He and Bob Curran, editor of Cavalier, were also friends.
Heard from Don Imus with a link to an appearance he made on the Letterman show. Barbara and I taped Letterman’s last show and watched it the next day. Great! Next week, Irons and more!