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Big Brother & The Holding Company

 Big Brother And The Holding Company Cheap Thrills Cover

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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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Over the years the art of designing album covers has been almost as appealing as the music inside.  Artists were often commissioned to draw or paint a cover that fit the group or title of the record.  Some were real works of art and others were just plain strange.

One of the strangest album covers of all time was one that not many people even saw. The group was called Pigeon.  It is often said that you can’t judge a book by its cover.  That was often not true of album covers.  Pigeon was a very good example.  Their cover featured a dead pigeon that was in a sandwich. This bad taste cover was almost as bad as the record itself.  I will spare you the viewing of the cover and instead will concentrate on ones that were a lot more cleverly and/or artfully done.   

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When interviewing rock stars about what were their biggest influences, one of the albums that almost always comes up is THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO. The album was recorded in 1966, but not released until 1967. The startling record was a major departure from the mainstream of Rock music at the time.

Like so many things in life, the stars had to be aligned for it to have even come to pass. The dominoes began to fall in place when Lou Reed decided to leave NYC and go to Syracuse University to study English/Journalism.

Besides being removed from the campus radio station for his taste in music, Lou was thrown out of the R.O.T.C. and grew his rebel roots. One of his major turning points was meeting and studying with Delmore Schwartz. It was Delmore, who himself was at one time considered to be a young rebel in the literary field, who encouraged Lou to follow his heart.

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In April of 1968 WMMR started broadcasting the Marconi Experiment hosted by Dave Herman from 10 PM until 2 AM. The experiment is now 50 years old and is a total success.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing. From the beginning there was plenty of competition. The very day that Dave Herman launched his program, WDAS-FM, headed by legendary DJ Hy Lit, started broadcasting album rock music on pretty much a full time basis. Both stations were gunning for the rock station WIFI that I formulated the year before.

Not long after I left WIFI to join WDAS, WMMR went full time album rock. WIFI dropped out of the battle early on, but WDAS hung in for a few more years. Those of us who were part of the WDAS staff were always envious of WMMR’s better signal and the money that they had to promote the station. While they didn’t have huge budget, WDAS had almost nothing.

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So how could you make it to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and still not be a name that the average fan doesn’t recognize? Aynsley Dunbar found a way.

Ever since he was a kid in Liverpool, England he was attracted to playing music. At first he was attracted to the violin. His parents, however, were convinced that the seven year old wasn’t serious about his interests. When they finally decided to buy him a violin, he had developed an interest in the drums, thanks to a TV show that he saw featuring a drum trio.

At the same time The Beatles and other Mersey beat groups were making a name for themselves, Aynsley was playing with lesser known groups like Derry Wilkie and the Pressmen and The Mojos. His stint with the Mojos lasted from 1964-1966. The group was popular enough to get the attention of some other artists in London.

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It is pretty well known that athletes have a love affair with music. The reverse is also very true.

The many years on the air have afforded me the opportunity to talk to many pro athletes and rock stars. They always say the same thing. The rock stars would like to be pro athletes and the athletes would love to be rock stars. It is more than just thinking the grass is greener. They know full well the pitfalls.

Some pro athletes are actually pretty good musicians. When Tommy Hutton was playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, he also performed in some local clubs. I had him on the air where he played guitar and sang very well. That probably surprised the fans who thought he was just a slick fielding first baseman.

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At first glance you may wonder when Steve Van Zandt has time to sleep. He has so much going on that it would seem that there are just not enough hours in the day for him.

Little Steven first surfaced on the worldwide music scene as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. The two have been friends for many years, but contrary to popular belief, Steven was not an original member. While he did perform with Bruce’s early band called Steel Mill, he didn’t officially join the E Street Band until 1975 after Bruce had already recorded and toured. Instead Steven was working with the group that he co-founded called South Side Johnny and The Asbury Jukes. He and Bruce wrote songs for that group which enjoyed some moderate success.

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One of the most frequently visited articles on this website is “Rock Venues That Are No Longer There”. The story takes a closer look at some of the places that spawned the music that rocked the late 60’s and 70’s in the Philadelphia area. It has prompted the most comments of any of the stories I have written.

As time moves on and changes are made to the landscape of the cities of this country, property that once housed clubs are now condos or business offices. No one could argue that these changes are more profitable and some would say a much better use of land. Still, it is sad to see so many historic clubs fade away.

Like Philadelphia, New York City has lost a large number of historic music venues. You can no longer go to the clubs that made it possible for many huge stars like Bob Dylan, The Talking Heads, Patti Smith, The Velvet Underground, and countless others to have a starting points in the big apple. They all are now just a memory.

You can now add another famous club to the list. The legendary B B King Blues Club is now closed. The idea for a small intimate club in the big city was the brain child of the blues giant B B King.

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The legend goes that Carlos Santana went from being a street musician to one of the best- selling artists of all time. True or not, his rise was truly spectacular.

It didn’t start out that way. After the group was first formed they auditioned for Chet Helms promotor of San Francisco’s hot new club called the Family Dog (and promotion company). That venue was allowing local bands make a name for themselves. Chet, who was often given the title of “Father of the Summer of Love”, was instrumental in making San Francisco a music hot spot but he missed this one. He told Carlos to give up music - his style of Latin Rock that would never work and to keep his day job. That day job was washing dishes.

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The answer to a great rock trivia question is Billy Preston. The question is- who is the only keyboard player to play for both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones? But Billy Preston is much more than the answer to a trivia question.

Billy Preston was highly regarded among his peers. Besides playing with both The Stones and The Beatles, he also played with Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin and Sly Stone. Prior to becoming one of the most sought after keyboard studio musicians in all of Rock music, Billy Preston learned his craft from some of the best including Ray Charles and Little Richard. His recording career started while he was still in high school when he recorded for the legendary Sam Cooke.

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