No matter what your vocation is, there’s always someone in that business that you learn from and look up to as you launch your career. For me there was more than one, but the DJ who had THE MOST influence on me was Dick Summer. In my book “Confessions of a Teenage Disc Jockey” I relate how much his all night radio show on WBZ in Boston was such a major reason for me to decide to get into radio. I was convinced that radio was not only something that I wanted to do, but could do by learning from his delivery.
Unlike almost all the DJs of the 50’s and early to late 60’s, Dick Summer was not a screamer. He was rather conversational on the air even though he was on a top forty station. He just talked to his audience-especially if you sent him an interesting letter. Often Dick would have silly bits on the air-like his campaign to get the name of a sandwich to a Shewsbury. The reason (as he explained on the air several times) was because the Earl of Sandwich stole the idea for making a sandwich from the Earl of Shewsbury. This and other pressing issues of the day were discussed at length.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller made R & R history for a number of reasons. They are in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame (1987) and the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1985). A short list of the diverse artists that they wrote songs for or produced will give you an idea of why they are held in such high esteem.
Among those that recorded the songs they wrote or were produced by them are: The Beatles, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, The Drifters, Dion, Tom Jones, James Brown, Peggy Lee, Little Richard, John Lennon, Donna Summer, Michael McDonald, Ben E. King, The Monkees, Ray Stevens, Leon Russell, Bad Company, Joni Mitchell, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, B B King, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Lee Lewis, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Fats Domino and Muddy Waters. This led to 100’s of hits.
In previous stories we highlighted the role of Sam Phillips and the Chess brothers, two giants of the record industry that made Rock ‘n’ Roll possible. Sun and Chess Records were just two of the many small independent companies without whom the birth of rock may never have occurred.
Other major players were Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records, Art Rupe of Specialty Records, the Bihari Brothers of Modern Records, Syd Nathan of King Records, and Lew Cudd of Imperial Records are just some of the players who helped launch a whole new era in music and the record industry. Each one of these gutsy owners are more than worthy of having their own story told. For the purposes of this article we will concentrate on how they collectively were able to pull off an amazing feat.
Way back in the early 1940’s the record industry was under the firm hand of just a few major labels. RCA Victor, Decca, and Columbia were able to dominate the market because they controlled every facet of the industry including recording studios, manufacturing plants, distribution, and even sales outlets. They even controlled the outlets for exposure. RCA was owned by NBC and Columbia by CBS. Both owned many TV and radio outlets.
I was prompted to add Elliott Randall as the 7th entry in my series on rock's unsung heroes by a comment that was made by Rocky on this website. He asked me a question. By the way, the best way to ask a question on my website is by sending an e-mail. Just click onto the contact button.
Anyway, Rocky wanted to know if I was aware of any recent work from Johnny Madara. For those who don’t know, John is a songwriter and producer that was born and raised in Philadelphia. He first achieved fame by co-writing one of the biggest hits of all time that was recorded by Philadelphia’s own Danny & The Juniors called “At the Hop”. It was a number one hit record for 7 straight weeks in 1957.
Since first being on the air at age 15 on WICK in Scranton, PA, T. Morgan has worked on air at WYSP Philadelphia, WWSW-AM / WPEZ-FM Pittsburgh (Station Manager), WMMR Philadelphia (Program Director, Air Personality), WIBG Philadelphia (Program Director, Air Personality), WDAS-FM (Program Director, Music Director, Air Personality), WIFI-FM Philadelphia (Music Director, Air Personality) and WMGK in Philadelphia.
John Zacherle was very much one of a kind. The Cool Ghoul was born and raised in Philadelphia and graduated from Penn.
When World War II broke out John Zacherle not only served but rose to the rank of Captain. After the war ended, John got serious about becoming an actor.
While he made his name as the host of horror TV shows, he started out being an actor and played several roles in a Western drama series that was featured on Philadelphia’s Channel 10. Management liked his ability so much they gave him his own show hosting horror movies using the name of Roland. This was despite the fact that he knew nothing about horror films because as a kid he was never allowed to see them. That didn’t keep him from creating a programed filled with both humor and drama.
One of the most unlikely owners of an early Rock ‘n’ Roll record label was the star of film and radio, Gene Autry. The famous cowboy with the white hat that battled bad guys on the big screen for many years was also a singer himself. The music that he sang that earned him the title of the singing cowboy was a pop version of Country and Western music that was popular in the 30’s and 40’s.
The legendary good guy was also a very astute business man. When he saw the rise of Rock ‘n’ Roll happening in the 50’s he decided to buy into it. Autry went into partnership with an associate named Joe Johnson who did promotion for Columbia Records. That was the label that he recorded for most of his career.
The first thing that Gene did was find someone who knew something about the music. The first artist that he signed to the new Challenge label came in the form of a good studio musician named Dave Burgess.
The announcement by The Rolling Stones that their first studio album in ten years was going to be a record of nothing but blues covers wasn’t a great surprise. The blues of course was the first building block in making the ground work for the music that would lead to them to being called the world’s greatest rock and roll band. One of the band’s biggest thrills was to visit the Chess Records Studio when they came to the US. They were even more excited to not only record in the same studio of the many blues greats that influenced them, but actually met some of them.
On hearing the news of this new cover album by The Stones, I thought that this would be the perfect time to write the already planned second (the first being Sam Phillips and Sun Records) in a series of those independent record company heads that launched Rock music. How and why did Chess Records become such an important launching pad for a whole new form of popular music?
The history of Rock ‘n’ Roll is filled with more myths, false legends and unbelievable true stories. I am doing a great deal of research right now to try and separate fact from fiction for my next book. There’s many volumes of books out there on the subject but many are turning out to be less than creditable. Here’s one true story that goes back to the very beginning of the Rock ‘n’ Roll and 45 RPM era.
One recent book that I have read is fascinating account of the man who discovered superstars like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. All these artists first recorded on a label that was started by Sam Phillips. The book is entitled “Sam Phillips: The Man who invented Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Peter Guralnick. The title itself is certainly over the top since no one person invented R & R. It does get the point across that this one man did so much to make rock music possible. He certainly took advantage of the opportunities the music offered for himself and others.
The years of 1966-67 were magical years in Rock history. There were so many new groups that sprang up from seemingly nowhere.
One of the most mysterious groups of the time period was Procol Harum. Most people who know this time period are familiar with group, but may not fully understand the major role Gary Brooker played in the band and how well respected his talents are among his peers.
The genesis of the group started in 1964. They were called the Paramounts. The band featured Gary Brooker, Robin Trower and B J Wilson who all became original members of Procol Harum. They even made a record that made it to number 35 on the UK charts.
Then in 1967 they teamed up with poet Keith Reid and started to get more serious about their music. Their single “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was not only their biggest hit, but a perfect example of how they mixed rock, classical music with lyrics that left the listeners wondering what they were talking about.
While she was born in Chicago, Patti Smith was raised in the Philadelphia Area. As a child she always knew that she was different. She was brought up as a Jehovah Witness, but didn’t buy into it. Instead she went on her merry way as a tomboy who didn’t care much for school. It certainly didn’t look on the surface that she was destined to be the punk rock goddess that she eventually became.
After leaving Rowan (then Glassboro) she made her way to New York City. There she started to write poetry that seemed to belong to the Beatnik era. Her friends encouraged her to not only write these poems, but to read them in the coffee houses of the village. It all happened almost as if by magic or accident. A friend started to play guitar as a backup. He was soon joined by others and before Patti knew it she was the lead singer of a band. News spread around the city about this first female punk singer. It wasn’t long before Clive Davis was convinced that she was on to something and signed her to Arista Records. A punk goddess was born.
When Rock ‘N’ Roll was young it was often the DJs who created much of the excitement. Many of those radio pioneers became just as popular as the music itself. When I was very young I used to scan the AM radio dial looking for them at night.
AM was very different from FM. In the 50’s and early 60’s no one listened to FM. Despite often having to put up with static, AM radio was a great way to get an education. In my book, “Confessions of a Teenage Disc Jockey”, I go into great detail as to how this not only was a huge influence on me, but many rock musicians.
One such disc Jockey was Dick Biondi. He was one of the original fast talking screamers that seemingly never ran out of bad jokes. “The Wild eyed-tralian,” was just one of many names that he labeled himself with. As crazy and corny as he was there was something infectious about him. The music was wild and crazy and he did everything he could to keep the excitement level at an over the top pitch.
Recently I was looking for a number and I spied a name and number that I had almost forgotten about. Wow I thought to myself, I wonder if Stewkey’s number is still the same? I haven’t talked to him in years. I picked up my phone and called half expecting that the number would be out of service. But no, much to my surprise Stewkey answered the phone and we were able to catch up on the few years since we last spoke.
Here’s an artist that deserved a better fate. For that matter, so did the band that he fronted called Nazz. The very same year that I started in Philly radio, 1967, was the year that Stewkey accidently became a Philadelphian.
Robert “Stewkey” Antoni was born in Connetcuit where he started playing music at a very early age and was in a band called The Mods by age 15. The Mods lasted 2 ½ years, but never recorded anything. Then in February of 1967 Robert decided to try and branch out. He was invited to join a band in Florida. Going to the beaches of Florida during the traditional spring break seemed to the perfect place for him to enhance his chances of a rock career.