Today at 8:58 AM
July 6, 2015
Claude’s Commentary No. 72
By Claude Hall
Gary Allyn: “Hello again my good friend Claudius ... I read with great pleasure Woody Robert’s account of his early meeting Lee Baby Simms. Shortly thereafter, I, too, had my first encounter with the redoubtable Lee Baby. It was the early Fall of 1966. I was rehired by KONO’s owner Jack Roth to become Program Director. Shortly after arriving back in the Alamo City from San Diego, Jack called me into his office to say he wanted to rehire Lee. So, we embarked on a teaser campaign on both KONO and KONO-TV to say: (Baby crying SFX) ‘The Baby returns ... soon’. Then it came: ‘The Baby returns to KONO on (date)’. As Woody said about Lee, he seemed really full of confidence … almost arrogant. He went on the air saying they wanted to bring ‘The old gunslinger back to shoot down the competition (KTSA)’. But, it was gonna cost ‘em this time, he (Lee) was gonna get big time money this time ... etc, etc. Lee was phenomenal on the air, in fact, I don’t think over the 3-4 times he worked for me, that he ever sounded better than he did at KONO.
Everything was going fine until one night after leaving his air shift, Lee and afternoon DJ Nick St. John went driving in Nick’s Corvette, and both had some intoxicant in them, and while driving through an upscale area of San Antonio (I believe Olmos Park) the Corvette left the winding road and through a fence onto the lawn of a large estate. It was after 3:00 a.m., and the owner of the estate came charging out of his house with a gun (or so I
was told) and held the two (Lee and Nick) until the police arrived. Jack Roth was notified by the police, and I was called at home by Jack to tell me to have both me and Lee in his office at 9:00 a.m. that morning. Jack Roth was one of the few who Lee was a little intimidated by. Lee always called him ‘King Jack’. Lee walked in to Jack's office. He had dark sunglasses on. Jack asked Lee if he could see without the sunglasses on as he wanted Lee to look at him when he talked to him about the driving incident earlier. As it turned out, the estate Lee and Nick drove into was that of the CEO of Pearl Brewery. Pearl Beer spent many thousands of dollars in advertising on KONO annually, and the sales contract was in jeopardy of being cancelled! Jack, of course, said he wanted Lee and Nick to pay for the damage they caused, and that the CEO of Pearl would not press charges if nothing more was said about it. And that was about it until Lee went on the air that evening. Lee, as was his habit, always talked to his ‘fans’ about what happened in his life each day, and this incident was discussed in great detail on the air. The kids and listeners loved it, they regarded Lee as one of them. A rebel of sorts against authority. Jack Roth, as you might imagine, was not happy at all. I feared this was the end of Lee's employment at KONO. After all, between Lee and KTSA, the two stations had 100% of the teen audience at night, and I didn't want Lee's majority ratings -- or him -- to leave! Jack had to prove that insubordination would not be tolerated ... suspension was handed down. As Woody said, Lee was young, in his early 20s. Lee saw nothing wrong in what he said. He was being honest with his listeners. A few years hence, Lee's ‘honesty’ got him trouble at KCBQ while I was the P.D. After playing a finance commercial on the air, Lee said that all loan companies were crooks, charging way too much interest, hounding people for payment etc. He told of his borrowing money from a loan company while working in Cleveland, and they were ‘bandits’ of the worst kind. Unfortunately, a manager of one of the finance companies whose commercial had just played on the air was driving around. He heard Lee's diatribe against his company. Irate, he called to cancel the account with the ‘Q’ sales manager. The Sales Manager called Dick Casper, the KCBQ GM. Casper was in New York on a buying trip. It seemed only seconds after Lee's air attack, I got a call from New York and Dick Casper who was screaming: ‘Get that sonofabitch off the air now! Immediately! You go in that control room and get him out and you finish the show. I want him GONE! Call me back after he is out of the building!’ Casper hung up in my ear. Once again, Lee's ‘honesty’ got him fired. He was truly ‘The Peck's Bad Boy’ of radio, but the listeners loved it. All these years later, these Lee Simms episodes bring a smile to my face. We all knew we were witness to original and brilliant talent. I always felt that you had to give this kind of talent more leeway. It would be like giving Picasso a paint-by-the-numbers kit, then tell him to paint something brilliant and original. I never had much trouble with Lee following the basic parts of the hourly format. He did the PSA's, the news, etc., on time. But I had to give him the freedom for Lee to be Lee. More than ‘Coke’, Lee was The Real Thing. A real storyteller. And Lee could ‘sell the music better that anyone. He made the listener feel like he loved the songs he played better than they did, while the opposite was true for most DJs. I once had a jock meeting to remind them that they were ignoring the playing of songs that they diidn't like -- usually bubblegum songs. I told them to play all the hits the way they came up in rotation. Lee said: ‘They're all like nails to me ... I just grab one and pound it in … one after another’. I loved Lee Simms. The Disc Jockey and the person. I think it was his ‘Honesty’.
Someone out there is going to mention that I’m featuring too much about Lee Baby Simms. My response right now is: Nope. Just FYI, Lee’s daughter Kim is on my mailing list.
Doc Wendell: “Here is my second installment of my record recommendations or ‘Doc's Prescriptions’. It's on a cooking Jimmy Heath album from 1960.”
Also: “This album by Gene "Jug" Ammons makes life better.”
I hate to see Don Barrett closing up shop. The man is a giant and has done giant things. Los Angeles and the surrounding media terrain will miss his labors – and heart -- terribly. Just FYI, Don Barrett was a damned good radio man himself back in the day and for years now edited an outstanding media blog. May the good Lord bless you, Don, with four aces (three hidden and one on the river). I consider it an honor to know you and Cherie.
Joe Nick Patoski about me mentioning his movie kickstart: “It’s never too late or too soon. Thanks for the mention. This isn’t the first time anyone’s pushed for Doug Sahm’s induction. But this film is the best tool to carry the message, and it includes the saga of the Sir Douglas Quintet -- how Huey P. Meaux (aided by good people like Chuck Dunaway) sold a band of Texans and Mexicans to the world as British, only to be outed on television’s ‘Hullabaloo’ by host Trini Lopez. If that isn’t rock and roll, I don’t know what is. Here’s a snippet about that from the film, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjUyFKMXquY
which is playing in Missoula as part of the Big Sky Film Fest summer series July 19 and at Cinefamily in LA July 30 -- Santa Fe Independent Film Festival and In-Edit Music Documentary Film Festival in October, with more to come.”
Andy Hall, my poet son who teaches at UNLV, is on a poetry team that just won a slam competition in Salt Lake City this past week. He asked me to publish this and, why not? “If you would forward this to friends and family, I'd sure appreciate it. We are trying to raise enough money to pay for expenses and transportation to this conference and tournament known as National Poetry Slam. Poetry slam combines art and entertainment in a fun and moving way. Think of it as poetry meets professional wrestling meets bowling meets ‘The Gong Show’.”
Sounds as if it’s something for which Joey Reynolds would be a perfect emcee.
Roger Carroll: “Everyone loves Joey Reynolds except me.”
Now, now, Roger. Play nice.
Tom Russell: “Thanks, Claude … don't know if I sent you this promo film we did for the new record:
Really enjoy the blog. TR in Vancouver.”
Man, Tom … you do get around!
Chuck Dunaway: “Hope I’ve told you already, but in case I haven’t ... please keep sending your informative emails ... it is hard for some of us to keep in touch with a business we loved and your emails bring us back into the fold ... if for only a short time. Thanks, Claude.”
For the “new radio format” projected by Ken Dowe, now a Tom Russell fan, the “fountainhead” for the format, I emailed him a fairly recent tune by Ian Tysonl (Russell and Tyson are buddies). The song was about the American horse, “La Primera.” I guess. And, no, it’ll never be a Top 40 hit. But it’s a good and quite interesting tune. One that someone interested in music ought to hear at least once. And I’m glad to see that Ian Tyson is still around.
Ken Dowe: “Love is Strange.” Mickey and Sylvia. I remember well. I’ll jump in the car tomorrow morning and blue-tooth Ian Tyson through some fine automobile speakers. Sorry you’ve not been well. Speaking of, I haven’t seen Chuck in quite awhile and usually hear from him if he’s not doing well. Hope all’s well. You know Chuck brought me to Dallas from San Diego when I was 20 years old. To KBOX. Remember? A really fine station in 1961. Chuck was the PD. Later, he and I worked together at KLIF. Been great friends for about 55 years. LONG time! We arrived in Santa Fe a couple days ago. Tom, as you told me, is appearing here on the 14th. I am going to call the box office in the morning and see if I can grab some good seats. Have a couple friends I might take along with Dottie and our 18 year old. (Grandson, but Dottie and I reared him as a son.) He’s a Tom Russell fan now. I drove this trip, switching the radio from my audio-books … to Tom Russell. Made it a really entertaining ride!”
Joey Reynolds: “Check out this video on uTube: Thank you. Claude, for the votes of confidence all during the dark days, it makes a guy feel good to be in fellowship with you. ‘More will be revealed’… Big Book, Bill Wilson. John Antoon is in hospital in Kennedy, CA, after a stroke, I have been trying to reach him. John and Gary Bailey were also fellow travelers who provided a map for the road less traveled. How are you, besides busy looking for the perfect chili recipe and wondering about Lebron James, was his mom dyslectic? Why Cleveland? I am ready to move to Athens cause it is the cradle of democracy, everybody in Greece is a philosopher and it is paradise for talkers; at the Acropolis everybody speaks freely, but no one pays attention, It's like AM Radio.”
Mel Phillips: “Afternoon Claude, I love to run into old (experienced?) Radio friends when least expecting to as I did the other day on 3rd Avenue (Manhattan). Jim Kerr and I go way back and Jim is always a pleasant surprise to see. Jim always provides an interesting conversation. He mentioned how reading my new book (blatant promotion for 'From the Mailroom to the Majors') made him reminisce about similar radio experiences and he brought up the name of Sebastian Stone, my late friend and program director of WOR-FM in the late 60s. Sebastian had a big box of airchecks in his office of all the airchecks he received. He had a system of grading each tape with an alphabet letter. When the sender of each aircheck would follow up with a call, the conversation would go something like this: 'Hey man I really liked your aircheck but I gave it a 'B'. Sorry man but you'll have to bring it up to an 'A' for me to consider you. Keep working on it and submit another one in about 6 months.' I don't know if they believed that or not but I thought it was an interesting way to recognize the person who took the time to send an aircheck....”
And then there was the general manager who asked for airchecks regarding a disc jockey opening … and then used the tapes for commercials. Just FYI, Sebastian Stone (I can’t recall his real name at the moment) was a close friend to Sam Hale. Sam has been under the weather. Spending so much time in the hospital of late his mailbox is jammed. I sincerely miss Sam. Anyone who knows him personally, please say hi from me.
Spider Harrison sent me a note that one of the great legends in radio, Chicago’s Lucky Cordell, and his daughter are in intensive care after a Sunday fire in his southside home, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. Firemen rescued Lucky and his daughter through a hole in the roof. Cordell, 86, and daughter Pat, 60, are being treated at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Moses Linberg Cordell Jr. began in 1952 on WGES. He also had a long run at WGRY in Gary, IN. In 1963, he became one of the initial Good Guys at the launch of WVON. In addition to being a DJ on the air, Cordell moved up the ranks at the station off the air, becoming music director, program director, assistant general manager, and by 1970, general manager. Under his leadership, WVON became one of the biggest radio stations in Chicago and one of the most influential R&B stations in the country. He exited full-time radio in the early 1980s to do some work with Chicago Mayor Harold Washington's office, Operation PUSH, and the Chicago Urban League (which he joined in the 1960s).
Dave Laird, Smithville, TN: “I'd love to receive your commentaries. I was emailing with my old boss and friend Art Wander, and he suggested that I request to be added to your list. I worked with Art in Syracuse, Memphis, and Boston. A great experience as I grew in the business. I retired after nearly 45 years back in 2008, and, frankly, don't miss the business the way it is today. Thanks for considering my request for your emails, and I hope you have an enjoyable 4th of July weekend.”
Thank you, Art, and welcome aboard, Dave!
I’m writing a “novel” about George Wilson, a man who as program director programmed more No. 1 radio stations than anyone in the world … but I guess the title of the book will end up “George and Me.” Anyway, I may never finish it. Like “I Love Radio” and “Radio Wars,” both eBooks available from Amazon.com/Kindle Book, it will mention a lot of people in both radio and music … and feature even a few comments … as did “I Love Radio.” The reason I may never finish this book is because he lived a big life and it’s one hell of a job to get all of that into just a book … and, yes, I even wrote his “official” bio a few years ago so I know quite a bit about him. He was one of my closest friends, especially the last few years of his life. Rob and Terry, the son of L. David Moorhead and one of George’s daughters, held the wedding reception of Jackie and George Wilson here at the Hall House. They catered in food from Sister’s in Los Angeles. As I write this, I’m looking at a photo I took at Chapel of the Bells when he and Jackie were married. Whups, here comes a photo of Lee Baby Simms during his KCBQ, San Diego days.
“George and Me,” actually a quasi mystery, had lain fallow for perhaps a month. I went back to work on it right after Don Barrett and Cherie visited. Thanks Don. Thanks Cherie. And I worked on it some today. It revolves around the murder of Nate McCalla, a man I only met once in the mid-60s. And, naturally, I’ve made a heap of suppositions.
Anyway, I have about 12,000 words written thus far on “George and Me.” If anyone would like to read it, I’m willing to send it to you in a pdf version for computer. Free. Just to the first dozen who respond. You can comment or not, tell me something about George or not. I feel the urge to send it out just in case I tire and never finish it. So you will know that, at least I tried to write about him. George, if any of us, certainly deserved a book. Just FYI, I’m still working on the book. And I do hope/plan to finish it one day.
I sent Woody Roberts an early version: “I learned quite a bit about early Top 40 by reading this piece. It reads like a memoir rather than one of your stories and will be an important addition to 20th century radio history. I hope you will eventually send it to your list and too Kindle it for a free download. It needs to go on a website somewhere so it will show up on Google searches, I hope some radio people will post it to their blogs. A keeper for posterity. George is an enigma with me, I got my first radio job in Galveston K-ILE '59 and basically was never intrigued by the programmers in the north. None of their stations interested me. Being a lad in Texas I was a McLendon student and aware of Chuck's honing of that format in LA. Which reminds me that Don Keys is a name often left out of radio history, he followed Bill's tenure with Gordon as Grahame had with Todd. The first time I became aware of George's name was in '65 as one of the references listed by Lee Simms. When I called, I think he was PDing in Baltimore. Lee spoke of him but I never heard anything from others about his stations and never heard an aircheck of one. I did spot his name in the Gavin Report. Wish I had known George. To me Billboard was a general department store and The Gavin Report was an exclusive boutique. The other publications and tipsheets were also-rans. Never considered one in competition with the other. I saw Billboard as butting heads with Cash Box and the more important of the two. Billboard did sales, Gavin depended a lot on ears and it wasn't just his exclusive cadre of reporters (anyone could subscribe, but I didn't know any DJs that bothered, only PDs and music directors), but it should be noted that Bill Gavin had the really BIG ears and the man could hear those hits before many of us, he told me his pop music strength was catchy melodies and harmonies. I really could not have won in Hartford without Gavin and Lee Baby. I could not believe it the first time I was nominated for GM of the year at the Gavin programming conference and then again, and then in 1971 I won! I was the guy who suggested and contacted Buckminster Fuller for keynoting the Gavin Programming Conference in San Francisco. I thought Bill's show was for Lucky Lager Beer not Lucky Strike cigarettes. It was while programming the music for Lucky Lager Dance Time that Bill decided to use his research methods to pick hits for Top 40 style music stations around the country. May not be exact but like the famous Storz coffee shop/bar lore that's the gist of it.”
Don Sundeen: “Hi, Claude, I recently came into contact with Bobby Poe Jr. and told him I was a great fan of his dad. I asked him to write something about The PoeK for
my blog, and sent me this page with a thumbnail of an incredible life. I wonder if you could print the URL so that others who fondly remember Bobby Poe can read words from the man who published the Pop Music Survey, and had legendary ’Seminars’ for radio and record folks for 30 years. It’s full of familiar names from back in the day like: Shelby Singleton, Lelan Rogers, Harv Moore and many others. It also turns out that Bobby Poe was a Direct Descendent of William the Conqueror … which explains a lot.
< http://www.poekat.blogspot.com >