Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Archie and the gang.
It was a normal Monday morning for me. About 40 years ago.

I entered the station whistling a “Four Freshman” song. “Route 66” probably. I liked that song. Still do.

And I was late. As usual.

 I checked my mail.

Back in the day, we had real mail boxes. They held real honest to goodness paper mail. Or, notes from the PD (program director), in this case, who was threatening to fire me again if I didn’t stick to the “play clock” and to stop airing that “Four Freshman” crap. His words.

The Monkees

The "play clock" was a cardboard cutout clock face divided into segments and color coded. Each hour, between endless commercials, we would play one song from the "red" sgment. That was current Billboard Top 10. One from the "green" segment. That was an oldie. One from an LP, which was yellow. And one of "your choice". I always picked something in a R&B or jazz album.

The program director was always threatening to fire me. One day he surprised me and did.

Then a week later he hired me back. At a lower salary.

I had a family. What was I to do?

I think it was gray metal or some such thing. The mail box. My air name, “Rusty”, was scrawled over a stick-on tab that was backed up with a half-dozen or so other tabs containing the pseudo names of other announcers who had come and gone.

Guys like; Don Best. Pete Hammer. “Gentleman Jim” Donovan. (I gave him that nickname. He wasn’t, by the way.

A gentleman.

Remember the words to “WKRP in Cincinnati”? “ Town to town up and down the dial?” Well, that was my life story up to that point.

Anyway, I sauntered into the md (music directors) office. Which he shared with the copywriters, (something I also did on the side for ten bucks a commercial. Fifteen if I produced them.

“Rusty, for Ch***t sakes will you stop playing that ‘jazz’ s**t and play the clock.”! He was nothing if not to the point. “Gary’s getting on my a** again.” Paul looked perturbed.

“Sure.” I said. Not meaning it.

“Good” he replied. Also not meaning it.

But this story isn’t about dj’s and their unbelievable self-absorption. It was about a guy who passed away a few days ago. January 17, 2011.

His name was Don Kirshner  And the first time I really looked at what he had done was that Monday morning so long ago.

I made it a point to check the new “record promotion” box to see if there was anything no body else wanted that I could take home, and to discover what new song we would be playing that week. An orange RCA label caught my eye.

I almost choked.

“Paul. What the hell is this?” I gingerly picked up the record like it had been dunked in dog poo.

Don Kirshner with Carol King and Jerry Goffin
“’The Archies’”? I was incredulous. “’The Archies’ are a cartoon, for cripes sake. A freakin’ cartoon.” Thus was introduction to “Bubblegum Rock” a phenomena which lasted from the late 60’s to the mid 70’s or so. And on the label, under "produced by" was Kirshners name.

Later in my radio career I realized this was a defining moment that led to my decision to find some other occupation..

“Sugar Sugar” by The Archies was one in a long stream of hits by one of the most prolific record producer and music publisher the world has ever seen. When he passed away earlier this week, he left a legacy of incredible music and musical performers in his wake.

Think Bobby Darin and “Splish Splash”. Little Eva and “Do the Locomotion” or “Cherry Cherry” with Neil Diamond (I just noticed a plethora of single words doubled in some of these titles!) He pulled together some of the best pop music composers ever assembled.

Most came from “The Brill Building” crowd that poured out #1 hits like candy from a Pez ® dispenser. Carol King, Cynthia Weil, Neil Sedaka and many others  whowere solid writers and performers in their own right.

He gave us “The Monkeys” who took the last train to Clarksville for over half a dozen years on records and tv.

He produced one hit wonders like”Tracy” by the Cuff Links, a group with the same lead singer who’s voice was in “The Archie’s”, Ron Dante. By the way, even when Betty or Veronica took the lead, it was Dante. Singing in falsetto. And doing all the layered harmonic overdubs.

And who could forget Kirshners deadpanned introductions of rock performers in “Don Kirshners Rock Concerts” back in the late seventies and early eighties until MTV ® came along? Even when his kids took over the master of ceremonys position, it was done in that same flat-voiced mono-tone.

So here's to you Don. You gave us a lot of good stuff. Even the "Archies", in retrospect , gave us something to tap our feet about.

(C) 2011 by George Locke

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Do You Like Rock and Roll?

I can't imagine very few of my friends who don't. We used it as hand and footholds to crawl up the cliff face of life. It became solace when we were feeling the loss of our first love and the halo of hope which we hung around someone new. Now, it's "oldies"; a term I cannot abide. I love this music and I was around at its birth.

Remember your song?

So those of our generations, and I use the plural form because I have never thought of my self as old, and with the number of kids I have produced, I have been able to cut through the built up layers of music covering several generations and listen when my kids speak of the spark of something new they have claimed as their music..

 Not rap. Not hip-hop. Not reggea. Not country. But rock and roll. (Although these genres have hundreds of threads that pierce this music.)

Boot stompin', butt kickin'. mind  losing rock and roll.

 So it was with a great deal of joy when I opened a present from my brother and sister in law this Christmas and found myself holding the 3 DVD set of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert. I cocked my head and looked at the box it came in.; the silouette of a Les Paul on fire against a red backdrop signed with dozens of the names of rock icons.

This looked interesting.

Today it is snowing volumns in New Hampshire and I have a few moments to write my thoughts on this collection.
It is put together by Time-Live and HBO and was recorded in Madison Square Gardens in New York on October 29 and 30 in 2009. The sound was clean and crisp. The videography steady and adequate and the editing, although at times somewhat confusing, was good.

 I say confusing, because the discs do not follow a linear progression of performances as they were filmed.
Somethings that were performed the first night with CS&N would show up on disc 3. Ok. No big deal.

The first act on the disc was "The Killer." Jerry Lee Lewis.

I ran home from high-school back in 1958 just to be able to see him perform on Dick Clarks American Bandstand on ABC. He came on, this tall, slim, wavy-haired handsome man and proceeded to reset my fuses. I mean, I was blown away. He snarled. He kicked the piano stool halfway accross the stage and prowled around the keyboard like a young lion in heat. He stomped, he screamed, he sang till Clark brought in the Philadelphia riot squad. Well, not really. But Dicks eyes were sure a wee bit larger that afternoon after Jerry Lee finished.

And the kids from south Philly high were limp.

Kick Ass American Bandstand
I was transformed by this performance as much as I was by listening to "Hound Dog" by Elvis a few years before. This was foundation shaking and I loved it.

But when he shuffled on stage during the beginning, I felt his age like he was wearing it and watched a shell of a man that once could cause women to become aroused with only look. It was gone. The smoke rose in gentle puffs where once there had been unquenchable flame. It was sad. He still rattled the 88's on "Great Balls of Fire". But it just wasn't the same.
When he finished, waxen faced and limping, he knocked over the bench. Barely. Then he leaned over to the popping of cartilidge and younger dreams and threw it down again. Not even a 2.5. Just barely a 1.5.

I was drained of hope and sat back in my seat. What had happened to my dream? Is the rest of this DVD going to be the same? It wasn't what I wanted to see. Not a whimper.

What did I expect? They would suddenly emerge from some magical sound-proof/age proof booth and careen into our lives again? I guess I did, and that was a silly thought to have.
The first disc proved to be anti-climatic.Crosby, Still and Nash, old and bloated, still could play. They still could sing.  But it was an echo of grandure and when Stevie Wonder came on and forgot words....stumbled in silence with faulty equipment well..... I was ready to call this thing a wash out.

Paul Simon lifted the crowd a little with  "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard"  but then the stomach ache started again with Dion Dimucci and Little Anthony and the Imperials. Enthusiasm was lacking. Age was showing.

The ending set featured Aretha Franklin who, it seemed wanted to be anyother place but there and simply would not sing her hits. What she chose, somehow didn't seem right and I heard later that she went her own way during rehersals . The "Queen of the Blues" wore an unsteady crown.

I was prepared to box the whole thing up and tuck it away with a lot of my momentos. Scraps of hope from the past that were dangled as bait and snared me in disapointment.

My brother has called me an old woman for my dismal reaction to what I had seen so far.

But then I stuck on the second disc. And I was riveted to the screen.

First, the boys were back in town, with Metallica, U2, Bono and Mick Jagger. Those who know me understand my disinterest in heavy metal and hard edged rock but these guys did what they did, with Ozzie taking off his sunglasses during IronMan/Paranoia and scaring me to death.

Then things got interesting when Bruce Springsteen ambled on stage and joined Patti Smith and Roy Bittan (The E Street Band fabulous keyboardest) with "Because the Night" from the pen of The Boss.

The place began to slowly melt down when Fergie joined bad old boy Mick Jagger and for a searing "Gimme Shelter". It looked as though Mick was about to be ravaged. And he was backing off!

 Jeff Beck showed up next and I sat for the rest of this disc, shouting, singing, jumping up occasionally (which is a trick for me) and singing at the top of my lungs.

Beck and Tal and a Day in the Life
High lights include Billy Gibbons from Z.Z. Top dueling with Beck in "Foxey Lady", Buddy Guy and Sting in "Let Me Love You Baby" and "People Get Ready" in that order.

 Then, out of nowhere, Jeff Beck begins soft as a feather in church Lennon and McCarneys opus. "A Day in the Life". The six string becomes the London Philharmonic and bassist Tal Walkenfeld braces all the riffs with sure-handed precision. It left me stunned. If for no other reason then this, you should get this DVD.

But it doesn't end there, folks, because the Boss is not over yet.

In one of the most rip-roaring introductions to any act I have ever heard, he brings on Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave) and he and Stevie and the rest of the band launch into the most joyful rendition of "Hold On, I'm Coming " and "Soul Man" this old boy has ever heard. Moore just about had the crowd ready to follow him and Bruce into the bowels of hell.

Tom Morello from Rage at the Machine suddenly appears and does one of the most inspiring guitar solo's you will ever hear in  Springsteens "Ghost of Tom Joad". The both of them make that song live.

My boy John Fogerty was next and he did "Fortunate Son" with gusto and after, he and Bruce did Roy the Boy's "Pretty Woman".  I think Roy is up there somewhere smiling.

 I realize this is a long piece of criticism on a long dvd, and I still haven't talked about the third disc. I don't think I will, other then to say it doesn't live up to the 2nd disc. But it's pretty durn good, and features more of the personell I have already mentioned.

Cold Coffee, Old Man. New thoughts.
 I didn't see the Beach Boys or the king of rock-guitar Chuck Barry represented. I was a little disapointed by that, nor did I see my man "Little Richard". But, hey, you can't have everything.

 Email me if you want to know more about this great dvd. I say dvd, singular, because you can throw away the first and last disc. Just save number two. That's the one that will make you move your body like a conga snake and that's something I would like to see.

(c) 2011 George Locke