There’s very little doubt in anyone’s mind that the British Invasion that took place in the United States was spearheaded by The Beatles. They were closely followed by the Rolling Stones. Both groups certainly earned the recognition and the place in rock music history that they are rightfully given.
One group that has not been given the credit that they deserve is The Yardbirds. When they are mentioned, it is almost always in the context of the famous guitarists who first established their reputation while being members of the band.
The Yardbirds were much more than Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. In 1963 other members of the group helped make this band a major influence on so many bands that followed.
Back to almost the dawn of teen idols in Rock ‘n’ Roll, every record company was looking for another Elvis Presley. Here in Philadelphia Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Bobby Rydell were not Elvis, but they were teen heartthrobs that did rather well on the charts.
At that same time a young man who was born in the small town of Cut Off, LA was signed to Ace Records. Jimmy Clanton was very much into the music in nearby New Orleans. “Fats” Domino, Professor Longhair, and Huey “Piano” Smith were among the many Crescent City stars that influenced Jimmy. Another big influence was the smooth style of R & B star Johnny Ace (who didn’t record for Ace Records). The Clanton sound was a cross between the R & B sound of the city and that of the other teen idols.
Twenty one years ago a tradition of having a Rock ‘n’ Roll Lunch was started. The 2019 version took place on Wednesday March 20th at the Bala Golf Club. A large roster of acts had those attending the luncheon dancing and clapping their hands.
Among the many that performed were: Danny & the Juniors, Rich Ritchie of The Rip chords, Kenny Jeremiah of The Soul Survivors. Rich Jordon of The Jordon Brothers, Eddie Collins music director for The Drifters, Billy Carlucci lead singer for Billy and The Essentials and the headliners Jimmy Clanton The grand finale was to have the entire cast of performers on the stage at the same time all singing together.
The old time rockers showed they still had their stuff. “Rock and Roll is here to Stay” by Danny & The Juniors had everyone singing along. The sold out crowd further showed their appreciation with several standing ovations.
In this edition of unsung heroes we again salute another man behind the glass. Tom Dowd is another name that is much overlooked when people even bother to look at the credits on a record.
Tom was born in Manhattan in 1925. Music was in the blood of Tom Dowd. His father was a concertmaster. That was the title given to the leader of a given orchestral section. His mother was an opera singer. Tom was taught music at an early age and was the master at the piano, tuba, violin and string bass by the time he was in high school.
Music wasn’t the only subject hat Tom excelled in while in school. He was excellent in every subject but really excelled in science. His exceptional abilities allowed him to graduate from high school at age 16. He continued to study music CCNY, while also studying Physics at Columbia. He also played in a band (before long he was their leader) and worked in the Physics lab at Columbia.
Some call Bob Dylan the greatest songwriter of all time. You certainly can argue that he is one of the best songwriters of the Rock era. No one has won more awards or been honored as much as Dylan. Is there an honor that hasn’t he hasn’t awarded at this point?
You certainly can’t dismiss the volume of music that Bob has written and released over his career. It is very easy to lose track of how many albums and singles he has released since the start of his debut in 1961. No other songwriter has had more other artists do covers of their songs.
With all that music it is easy to have overlooked some of his best singles. Dylan wrote and recorded so many great songs during the mid- sixties that he even admits are beyond his abilities to write today. Of course, he has reinvented himself so many times that his song writing has changed. These changes make it possible for him to have had such a successful career and sustain it over many decades.
Most of us had a job or two before settling in to our life’s work. Very often these jobs were not the most desirable ways to earn money. My least favorite job that I had growing up was cleaning oil burners. It is very hard for me to imagine a dirtier occupation. I think I am still trying to clean off some of the dirt that clings to my body like glue.
We sometimes think that rock stars somehow lead a charmed life and never did anything other than be on stage. Well, most rock stars also had a job prior to making it in the music business. Some had jobs that were pretty far removed from playing music.
It is very hard to imagine that John McVie was a tax inspector prior to becoming a member of first John Mayall’s blues Breakers and then Fleetwood Mac. He trained for the job and it was such a secure occupation that he had to be talked into giving up his “day job”.
Sixty years ago I was too young to be really close to anyone who had died. Life at that young age does seem to be almost endless. Of course it isn’t but I was fortunate enough to have not known any tragedies at that stage of my life.
Then on February 3, 1959 an event took place that shook up my life. Like Don McClean, who made a name for himself with the epic “American Pie”, I read about it in the newspaper. In a huge, bold front page headline it told the chilling story. Three of the biggest rock stars of the day were killed when a plane crashed in cold Iowa field. The news froze my blood. I cut out the headlines and the story and still have them to this day.
No, I didn’t know the three performers, but I felt very close to them because of their music. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were on a tour of the Midwest went their plane apparently had engine trouble and fell from the sky. The news hit me as if I had lost my best friend.
Anyone who has listened to the radio with any degree of frequency has heard the DJ refer to an artist or group as a one hit wonder. You may have wondered what exactly constitutes that designation.
The first thing is that it depends on what your definition of a “one hit wonder” is. Apparently Billboard Magazine, the bible for the industry for many years, considers a song to be a hit when it makes it into the Billboard top forty charts.
With that as the criteria, an astounding number of “superstars” were one hit wonders. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Lou Reed, The Buffalo Springfield, Patti Smith, Dr John and Randy Newman are good examples. The reason of course is that they were all part of the transition from 45s being the marker for stardom to albums. While these “superstars” sold millions of albums, they didn’t do well in the singles market.
Part Two in a series. For Part One, click here.
Big Brother & The Holding Company
The first time I met Janis Joplin was when I was the MC for her first concert ever in Philadelphia. It was held on the U of Penn campus in their Irvine Auditorium. Also on the bill was Philadelphia’s own Soul Survivors and Edison Electric. Oddly, Edison Electric went on last.
Update December 2018:
The new class of 2019 has been announced. Good arguments can be made for most of those who are going in. It was especially good to see that The Zombies were finally selected. They are one of the most underappreciated groups in all of Rock. Rod Argent, who had a successful solo career, is excellent on the keyboards. Lead singer Colin Blunstone has one of the most impressive voices in all of music. They both expressed delight and surprise at being selected. Both were sure that at this point they would never be picked.
It does seem that, for some unexplained reason, the selection committee doesn’t like the great classic rockers. Just look how long some of the super stars of Rock were kept waiting. Steve Miller and Yes should have been selected back in the 90’s. It is hard to believe that some artists that are already in the Hall of Fame were selected before a group like Ten Years After.
It seems like every year the stores and many radio stations start playing wall to wall Christmas music earlier every year. The merchants want you to get into the Christmas spirit and buy gifts. The radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music have great ratings so there’s very strong evidence that people want to hear the holiday music.
The major problem with playing Christmas music all the time is that there’s a lack of traditional songs so you keep hearing the same songs being done by different artists. If you are tired of hearing those same Christmas songs over and over, then perhaps you’d like to make your own list (checking it twice) and create your own soundtrack for the holidays.
In my article about the Cheech & Chong Christmas effort called “Santa Claus and his Old Lady” I listed some songs. Listed below is a more complete list of my favorites that are non-traditional. They are not listed in any particular order.
“Happy Xmas (War is over)” John & Yoko
When I was programing WPEZ in Pittsburgh, a young man in his twenties came in to the station and asked to talk to me. He claimed that he was a Pittsburgh native and a movie star. My first reaction was, right.
I usually don’t talk to anyone who isn’t in the music business. Still I was curious to find out what this guy was selling so I decided to give him a few minutes to tell me what was on his mind. It turned out to be an interesting conversation.
He told me his name was Jeff Goldblum and he was the son of a Pittsburgh doctor (father) and a radio personality (mother). His claim to being a movie star was a bit shaky. Jeff did bit parts in established hit films like the Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish” (he played a freak), “Nashville”, “Anne Hall” (one line) “Thank God it’s Friday” (the disco craze movie) and “The Sentinel”. The only real role he had was a supporting role in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.
Two recent events really stirred up some fond memories. The first was the WMMR 50th anniversary reunion held at the Fillmore in Philadelphia on September 22, 2018 (story). The second was a panel that I was part of at the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia lunch held on October 17, 2018 at the Bala Club (story).
While there are already stories about both events and a link to the video of the panel on the tmorganonline website, it could hardly tell the whole story of WMMR. After all, much has happened in the 50 years that WMMR has been continuously rockin’ here in Philly.
Since all of us who have ever worked at WMMR have a real kinship, it was really great to see some people that I haven’t seen in years. Exchanging stories of the “old days” is always fun. And there’s so much to tell. Even though I did devote a great deal of space to those fantastic WMMR years in my book “Confessions of a Teenage Disc Jockey”, the limited space in writing a book didn’t allow for all that could be written.