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In most recording studios there’s a large picture window that separates the recording artist from the person producing them. While they often don’t get the credit they deserve, producers often are the difference between success and failure.

Everyone knows the role that George Martin played in making The Beatles a huge success, but most producers just fall under the radar. If and when you read the small print on the record label of a record you will find that there have only been a handful of very well respected producers. They have done so many albums that you will start to notice how they are attached to some of the best music ever.

When Tom Wilson was studying Economics at Harvard I have no idea if his secret dream was to produce records. He certainly understood the importance of a budget and doing records within that framework. Once he graduated from Harvard he almost overnight became one of the go to guys for producing progressive Jazz albums. In the late 50’s and early 60’s he produced superstars in that genre like John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor and Philadelphia’s own Sun Ra. He also wrote liner notes for many Jazz albums of the period.

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In 1980 I was working for Arista Records under the legendary Clive Davis. At one of our many staff meetings there was a real feeling of excitement and anticipation about a new artist that we signed. There was so much buzz about this guy Willie Nile that Arista actually won a bidding war with other labels to get him to sign with us.

What was not to like. Willie Nile (real name Robert Anthony Noonan) was causing a sensation in the clubs of New York City. On stage he looked like Bob Dylan (and talked like him as well), but performed more like Bruce Springsteen. Clive, who had worked with Dylan and signed Bruce when he was the head of Columbia Records, was totally convinced we had a major star in the making.

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Every week or so we will be dusting off an old 45 and putting them on display. Along with the picture of these old gems, we will have a story about each of them. Once a 45 has been featured and replaced with a new one, it will be moved into The Archives. Here’s the latest entry:

The recent death of Keith Emerson prompted me to write a story about him on my website. It also got me to look into the 45s that I have by the group.

As I talk about in great length in my book “Confessions of a Teenage Disc Jockey,” I was scheduled to do an interview with ELP when they first formed. We were to meet at their first real public appearance, the concert at the Isle of Wight in the summer of 1970. Some way to start a career, but the group were all seasoned veterans by the time they formed. We didn’t meet at the time (again refer to the book), but did meet some years later.

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Most of the Rock stars that Philadelphia FM radio launched during the 70’s were heavy duty rockers who were more than loud enough to shake places like the old Spectrum. Very few of those who gathered fame and fortune during that decade were singer songwriters. Certainly none were as “nerdy” as Al Stewart. He did a show at the Spectrum and seemed almost lost on stage doing an acoustic set.

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The general consensus in Rock circles has always been that Captain Beefheart was a musical genius. On this site there is a story already written about him. This is the story of the man behind the genius that made his work possible.

It was the great Captain Beefheart that gave John French the name of Drumbo when John joined the Magic Band. It marked a great turning point in the careers of both. While Beefheart had already been on record and was starting make a name in the music business, it wasn’t until French took over the drummer choirs for his band that things really started to change in the music.

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Every week or so we will be dusting off an old 45 and putting them on display. Along with the picture of these old gems, we will have a story about each of them. Once a 45 has been featured and replaced with a new one, it will be moved into The Archives. Here’s the latest entry:

In April of 1979 The Knack recorded a song that went on to be the fastest selling single to reach a million in sales since The Beatles released “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” in 1964. That almost naturally led to them being compared to the Fab Four. They were even on the same Capitol Record label as The Beatles. That comparison was the kiss of death for The Knack. “My Sharona” was their only hit and they went down in Rock history as the biggest one hit wonders of all time.

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speaker 430Listen: Link Wray - Rumble

Fred Lincoln “Link” Wray, JR is often cited as the father of the so called “Power Chord” that became the basis for “Heavy Metal” and “Punk Rock”. There’s a very long list of star guitarists that he influenced that made more of a name in the music business (and more money too) than the originator. Among those who list Link Wray as a major influence are Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend. Pete has been quoted as saying he never would have picked up a guitar had it not been for Link Wray. His pioneer work did, however, earn him a place in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

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The life story that Bobby Whitlock tells in his autobiography simply called “Bobby Whitlock: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Autobiography” sounds at times like the story that almost every rocker could tell. He grew up down south in one of the great music cities in the world, Memphis. When Bobby was very young he started singing in the church.

As teenager Whitlock started his musical education by hanging out at the world famous Stax Recording Studios. By watching some of the best studio sidemen ever, he learned to play guitar and piano.  Some of these great players like Steve Crooper and Booker T took a liking to the young musician and soon he was part of the Stax recording team. That led to not only playing in Booker T & The MGs, but he backed up Sam & Dave, The Staple Singers and Albert King.

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All the recent talk about The Beatles anniversary of their so called invasion of the US reminded me of another artist. In my book “Confessions of a Teenage Disc Jockey” I tell the story of how The Beatles had one song “She Loves You” released on the Philadelphia based Swan record company. Prior to The Beatles, the biggest selling records on Swan were those of Freddy Cannon.

Born Frederick Anthony Picariello Jr, “Boom Boom” broke out of Philadelphia. His appearance on American Bandstand led to several big hit including “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” in 1959. In total, Freddy appeared on American Bandstand 110 times.

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Like many of you, the death of David Bowie had me digging up some of his old material. What I uncovered was not really a single even though it is in the form of a 45 RPM, but rather an EP. This extended play was only issued to radio stations by RCA Records as a way to introduce Bowie to those who were not aware of his existence. You will note the stamp indicating “for promotional use only.”

As you have read in my story about Bowie on his passing and in my book “Confessions of a Teenage Disc Jockey,” Bowie was already a star in Philadelphia, but for many this 1972 release was their first exposure.

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At Christmas every year radio stations all over the country dust off the old Christmas music. Some go so far as to play nothing but the holiday music for a whole two months prior to the actual day.

Most rock stations, given that there are so many other outlets for the seasonal music, usually don’t play many Christmas songs until very close to the big day. Even then, they stay away from the more traditional music. Over the years many rock stars have tried to release a song that the Rock radio stations would play for many years to come. In some cases, like The Waitresses “Christmas Wrapping” for example, it is the only song that we even know by the artist. While others like “Run Rudolph Run” by Chuck Berry or Keith Richards, Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas”, The Kinks “Father Christmas”, The Eagles “Please Come Home for Christmas”, and one of the very best “Happy Christmas” by John Lennon all deserve to be called classics.

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speaker 430Listen: The Beatles - Dizzy Miss Lizzy - Live - Houston 8/19/65

As I am writing this, it is the anniversary of the shooting of John Lennon. Like so many others who lived through this tragic death, I remember exactly how I heard about the shooting and how I reacted. This is not going to be a story of that day. I already covered that in my book “Confessions of a Teenage Disc Jockey.”

Instead, I am going to tell you about a single that changed the way John Lennon heard and wrote music. One of John’s favorite recording artists was a man named Larry Williams. The Beatles covered a few of Larry’s songs in the early days. Ironically, Larry’s life was also very tragic.

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Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman on December 5, 1932, in Macon, Georgia. It would seem at first that he would be a very unlikely Rock and Roll star. Between his family being very religious (several family members were preachers) and his father giving him a very hard time because he was openly gay at an early age, a rock star that appealed to the general public was a pretty farfetched concept.

At the tender age of 13 Little Richard tired of his father’s harshness left home. He found shelter in the most unlikely of places. A white family took him in. That family also owned a club where Little Richard was able to develop his sound. With a mix of the blues, gospel that he learned in the church and the R & B of the time, he came up with his own sound. That sound was unique enough for Little Richard to be signed by RCA Records in 1951, but his early singles didn’t sell and he was dropped by the label.

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