“Local DJ”

chuck-berry-local-dj

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

LOCAL DJ

I received a call from Jerry Patlow, a Detroit booking agent, the day after the amazing ratings came out. It turned out that the legendary Chuck Berry was spending several weeks in Lansing. He was recording a new album with the Woolies. The Woolies had constructed their own recording studio in a garage annex next to their house and were highly honored being chosen by Mr. Berry for professional collaboration and/or advantageous utilization.

After his incredible success in the mid to late ’50s and a period of incarceration brought about more by his choice of skin complexion and unparalleled popularity among white youths than overt acts of felonious illegality, Mr. Berry had fallen on marginal times. He had never been the primary beneficiary of his earlier triumphs and had made only thousands as his record company made millions. As a Black artist, he was not unique in this distinction, but his experience was singular in terms of magnitude. His contributions to and influence upon a newly emerging music form were staggering. His financial rewards had been minimized by crafty agents, crooked promoters and slick attorneys.

As a consequence, Chuck Berry had become a lone rider on the Rock ‘n Roll Range. He was his own manager now and all he carried on the road was his  guitar. His contract specified amplifier requirements (Twin Fenders) and support musicians of acceptable ability. Since any rock musician claiming such distinction always knew the entire Chuck Berry catalogue, it was usually just a matter of choosing four or five good players who would spend several hours rehearsing and then meet Mr. Berry only moments before show-time. There weren’t that many chord changes. After Chuck Berry had worked with The Woolies a few times, they became great friends.

In addition to being outstanding musically, The Woolies really enjoyed playing with Chuck and they added an animated, enthusiastic quality to each performance. This was sometimes lacking with typical “pick-up” bands. Whenever Berry was booked in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana or Ohio; The Woolies were his first choice. Promoters were instructed accordingly. Chuck was also without a recording contract. When The Woolies offered him use of their humble, but adequate, facilities at extremely favorable terms, Mr. Berry was most pleased. He had set aside much of January for the project.

Chuck had also reflected upon the possibility of generating a few dollars in the immediate vicinity during his stay in Lansing, prompting Jerry’s call to me. Berry and the Woolies wanted a guarantee of $1,250 against fifty percent of the gate on Sunday, January 24th. I agreed instantly. Having briefly met Chuck a few years earlier, I was incredibly excited about being afforded the opportunity to actually present him myself. I had carried that guitar!

Even though the Sherwood Forest audiences represented a second generation of rockers, the turn-out was excellent. Mr. Berry’s show was magnificent and audience was exceptionally responsive.

Backstage, we had gone through a ritual prior to performance which I came to learn was standard when dealing with Chuck Berry. He had carefully reviewed the ticket-count and had then audited the money given him. He had “gone into percentage” and was thus entitled to $1,770.00 for the night. As usual, this amount was presented in cash, mostly in one and five dollar bills. These were sorted and labeled into fifty and one hundred dollar packets. Mr. Berry unwrapped all the packs and carefully counted each and every dollar. It took approximately ten minutes. Satisfied that all was in order, a giant, tooth-filled grin crossed the showman’s face. With the word “mellow”, he signified his satisfaction. One would not wish to see Chuck Berry frown.

During one of several encores, he introduced a novelty tune. It was chanted like a nursery rhyme, although the lyrics danced about with an unmistakable ring of double-entendre. It was about a little boy and his bell. Crowd participation was requested and given. A studio version performed with The Woolies was later discarded in favor of a live recording made during an appearance the following winter at the Lanchester Polytechnic College Arts Festival in Coventry, England. The BBC resisted severe pressure to ban the song after being accused of being “a vehicle for mass child molestation” by self-styled protector of British morals, Mary Whitehouse. “My Ding-A-Ling” sold over two million copies around the world.

In March,  Peter, Paul and Mary broke up. A year earlier, member Peter Yarrow had pleaded guilty to “taking immoral liberties” with a fourteen year-old girl. I assumed she had puffed his magic dragon. I  was saddened when fifty-five year old Frank Sinatra announced his retirement from show business to “write and teach”. Although I was not a Sinatra music enthusiast, I always was an attitude fan.

Rather than attempt concerts every Sunday at Sherwood Forest, I had initiated a pattern of scheduling two or three presentations a month based on availability of proven attractions. In practical terms, unless a group had significant radio exposure and people had heard of them, only several hundred could be attracted by even a stellar group of unknowns. I had tried packaging two or three emerging bands of excellent merit and selling the concept as supporting new music. It just didn’t work. Without “a hit”  you couldn’t draw shit. Even attendance for a Bob Seger concert would rise and fall proportionate to recent chart success. When he played Sherwood in late March and introduced a new composition about life on the road called “Turn the Page”, only three hundred were present for the historic moment. Bob later said that the smaller turn-out had encouraged him to try some new material for experimental purposes.

On Easter Sunday, Badfinger packed the hall.

“No Matter What” on Apple Records had gone through the roof and their connection with the Beatles didn’t hurt. They were very proper Englishmen and enjoyed a bit of Sherwood Forest horseback-riding prior to appearance. They also were fascinated that I had obtained an advanced  copy of the new Rolling Stones album “Sticky Fingers”, which I played in its entirety during a break. It had debuted the prior evening on WTAC, much to the renewed  chagrin of our colleagues at Detroit stations. They once again had found themselves pimped by Flint.

Creem Magazine was having financial difficulties and Shep Gordon had promised publisher Barry Kramer an Alice Cooper date for old times’ sake. Creem had been good to Alice and Shep was not one who forgot a favor. Wednesday, May 12th, saw us stage a “Creem Benefit Concert” at Sherwood Forest. Creem writer Dave Marsh was delighted over my choice for opening act. Rudy Martinez had reformed his group. “Question Mark and The Mysterians” kicked things off with a fine thirty-minute set. It was to be the first of many failed reincarnations. Too many teardrops had fallen. “Q” had ended his brief earlier career penniless and without direction.  He was working at a gas station in Clio, Michigan. I gave him two hundred dollars. It was his first paid gig in a year.

Pete Flanders and I decided to try a co-promotion at the Rollaire Skating Rink in Bay City with the MC5.  John Sinclair was still in prison, ostensibly for possession of two marijuana cigarettes. It was more than not a technicality, but that’s how the law had finally nailed him.  John Lennon would later appear at a massive “Free John” rally in Ann Arbor and write a song about Sinclair which would precipitate an early release. Meanwhile, the MC5 were functionally rudderless without John’s impressive management skills and were taking any work that came their way. Less than one hundred tickets were sold. Their new album on Atlantic had been well-produced, but lacked adequate record company support. “Sister Anne” and “High School” were as good as anything they’d ever done. The “Revolutionaries” had ammo, but no guns. It was a shame.

On June 23rd, the first “Wild Wednesday” of the year was scheduled outdoors at Sherwood Forest.  It was to be a notable milestone in Bob Seger’s career. I had put together the usual “best of the best” Michigan line-up and was looking forward to another great Summer kick-off.

Bob’s manager, Punch Andrews, called me a week before the concert.

“Pete; listen. I’ve gotta tell you something. Don’t panic. Don’t panic! “

I experienced a “klong”, which author William Safire later coined and defined as “a sudden rush of shit to the heart”. Seger was cancelling? Punch was going to sell me on a substitution? The radio announcements had already run a week headlining Bob. Posters and flyers had been distributed throughout the state. There goes the whole show. Don’t panic?

“I won’t panic, Punch. Seger’s still on the date??”

“Sure. Sort of.”

“Sort of? What do you mean “sort of?”  He’s phoning-in his appearance?”

“No. No. No. No. Bob will definitely be there.”

“Punch, what’s the “sort of” thing?”.

“Don’t panic!”

“Punch, you’re making me very fucking scared.”

“Seger wants to do an acoustical set. Solo. Just him sitting on a stool with his guitar and a single microphone. It’s what he wants to do.”

I was absolutely silent. As all great managers do, Punch kept on talking.

“I know it sounds weird. I tried to talk him out of it. Honest-to-Christ!  I tried. I really tried. I did. I tried. Pete?”

A single acoustical number strategically placed in the final half-hour of a ninety-minute rock performance was one thing. It could even be elegant.
And it set things up for a crashing, slamming, thundering finale.

Bob Seger playing a purely “acoustical set” would be like Johnny Carson opening with a joke free monologue. It would be like viewing a Tarzan movie without Cheetah, Jane or that one scene where he always stabs the same crocodile while the jungle birds go “Aaahwooow. Aaaaahwooow. Aaahwooow”. Or paying five bucks to see “Deep Throat” and discovering that you’re watching a three-hour cinematic opera on the life of Enrico Caruso in Italian without sub-titles. I patiently explained all of these illustrations to Mr. Andrews.

Punch entirely agreed, but was powerless. Bob had been wanting a “new direction”. He was tired of the “same, old shit”. He wanted to expand”as an artist.  He wished to “grow” as a performer. He desired more “personal contact and communication” with his audience in a more “meaningful, dignified way”. Punch was guessing that this was a “phase” that Bob was going through and that it would be short-lived. But the “phase” would not pass before the 23rd of June. Of that, Punch was certain.

Rather than close the show, the set-times were adjusted and Bob was scheduled for a thirty-five minute “all acoustical/solo performance” at 7 p.m. It would still be broad daylight and jagged projectiles from the crowd thrown at the promoter could be more easily avoided. All radio copy was changed to stress that this would be an all ACOUSTICAL appearance by Bob Seger WITHOUT his BAND. I used a “first-time-ever” approach, not knowing how understated those words would shortly become.

We had great weather on the 23rd and a another record crowd for “Wild Wednesday ’71”.

As “Frijid Pink” finished on stage “A” at 6:55,  Bob took his position on stage “B” in anticipation of my introduction. There was Bob on the promised stool with his guitar and a microphone. Nothing else.

I used my twenty seconds of introduction to explain what a rare and special moment it was and how pleased we all should be to witness such a splendid event at that particular point in our respective lives. The crowd applauded correctly and Bob launched into something from his “Beautiful Morning” album about flowers and love and feeling and touching. He finished his first number and there was polite, if somewhat tentative, applause. His second selection was a six minute ballad about a lonely coal miner and his pet canary or something similar. The crowd was straining under the challenge. There were a few muted cries indicating restlessness, disenchantment and discomfort. Bob’s third tune about quiet loss and gentle heartache broke the dam.

Exclamations of dissatisfaction and demands for “Heavy Music”, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”, “Noah” and/or anything other than “That Shit” (which was the collective critique quickly emerging) echoed through the park.

Screams for “Rock ‘n Roll!” and shouts of the ever-dreaded “Fuck You!” were building with every sweet, delicate note sprung forth. This wouldn’t even qualify as a debacle. It was outright, unimaginable, unmitigated, unadulterated disaster. The crowd had lost even a pretense of tolerance. Impatience had given way to anger. Rage would come next.

If Necessity is the Mother of Invention; Terror is the Father of Inspiration.

During the first  twelve (which seemed like a trillion) minutes of “Seger/Solo”, an amazing opportunity for unplanned intervention had presented itself through absolutely pure coincidence. Is random chance no more than luck? Are miracles only what they seem? Is fortune destiny or draw?

As soon as “Frijid Pink” concluded, their equipment had been struck from stage “A” and that of the next musicians, who would follow Bob Seger,  placed into position. Since their gear consisted of one (1) organ and one (1) drum-kit;  normal set-up time of twenty-five minutes was reduced to ten.

David Teagarden and Skip VanWinkle hailed from Oklahoma and had worked out of the Detroit area for several years. I had never seen a duo of their kind.

David played drums with forceful precision and Skip VanWinkle pounded the organ and sang with equal power and talent. Skip looked, acted and spoke like Festus Hagen on “Gunsmoke”. When they had first appeared at Sherwood Forest the preceding Christmas season, the audience had stormed the stage in adulation during their last of three encores. Their recording of “God, Love and Rock ‘n Roll” had sold a half-million copies across the nation. Teegarden and VanWinkle were ready not only to play, but totally save the day.

In the middle of Seger’s second song, I had noted that David and Skip were almost through with their preparations. I was standing next to Punch Andrews, who knew his artist was in serious trouble. The “Fuck-You” birds were just beginning to chirp. I loudly whispered to Punch that we both knew how bad it was and how much more awful it would soon become. I suggested that if Teegarden and VanWinkle would go along with it, assuming that Bob wanted to quickly bail from his game plan, a remarkable solution might be right at hand. I speculated that, although they had never played together before, there were probably dozens of songs in their mutual repertoire. Chuck Berry stuff. Bo Diddley music. Little Richard material.

All Bob had to do was run over to the other stage, plug in an electric guitar, compare choices with Teegarden and VanWinkle and then just fucking jam.

Punch quickly visited with Teegarden and VanWinkle. They were watching Seger and were acutely aware of his predicament. It was a crazy idea. It might be a trip.  No problem!

Bob Seger had finished his third piece and was staring into the face of a potential lynch mob. The audience was devastated in disappointment. He reflected upon even the most remote options. He contemplated faking a heart-attack or stroke. Possibly, no faking would be necessary. The eyes of twelve thousand bitterly “bummed-out” fans bored into his very soul. He had heard all the shouts. He had seen the questioning looks of lost allegiance. Where he had sought artistic extension, he found collapsed credibility. He had misjudged. He had wandered. He had committed the most Mortal of all Rock ‘n Roll sins. In attempting to lead his audience “up”, he had proportionately brought them down.

All Punch had to do was begin the first few words of hypothesis. Bob got it and was in full flight toward stage “A”. His electric guitar was waiting and amplifiers were set at maximum volume. Skip and Dave shook hands with Bob and spoke but a few seconds. The introductory guitar notes were as known to me as my calling in life. It was the very first record I had ever played on WNDR more than a dozen years before. Seger grabbed the microphone and screamed opening lyrics.

“I’m gonna write a little letter; gonna mail it to my local dee-jay!”

Electricity cracked through the crowd like a bullwhip. The energy rush was nothing sort of breathtaking. Twelve thousand involuntary and self-administered doses of raw adrenaline surged into the body collective. It was SEGER!

“It’s a jumpin’ little record I want my jockey to play!”

The mood-swing was incredible! It was as though  a giant spring had been wound to the last possible degree of tolerance by twelve minutes of almost unbearable restraint, then instantly sprung-loose with full, abandoned, utterly reckless release. The “acoustical” beginning had become an inadvertent catapult, launching the audience into sudden unexpected heights.

“Roll over Beethoven, I gotta hear it again today!!””

Teegarden and VanWinkle were exploding under Seger’s guitar as though created solely for that exact moment. The musical synchronization and balance were perfect. There was no way they could be any tighter.
They played and played and played. Song after song. Classic after classic.
They raced through the duration of Seger’s allotted time and through all of Skip and David’s. I allowed the three an extra fifteen minutes for encores. There was no way not to.  The impromptu performance was everything that Rock ‘n Roll ever should  be. It was magic. It was enchantment.  It was ordained. Nothing else made sense.

Bob and Punch and Skip and David spent hours in post-concert discussion. Agreement was reached. A pact was formed.  A new group was born.
The album “Smokin’ O.P.’s” was released two months later with resounding success. More than half of the material had been performed that night at Sherwood Forest.

Jim Morrison of The Doors was found dead on July 3rd in a Paris bathtub. He had not finished his twenty-seventh year.

The Summer continued July 14th with another “Wild Wednesday” headlining Edgar Winter’s “White Trash”. Pete Flanders picked up Edgar at the Flint Sheraton, drove him to Sherwood Forest and then returned to the Sheraton for his hat. Edgar couldn’t play without his hat. He got back to the park with thirty seconds to spare. His hat sounded great.

“Parliament and Funkadelic” closed another “Wild Wednesday” show August 11th in spectacular fashion.  George Clinton had been thoroughly briefed about voluntary behavioral requirements while playing at Sherwood Forest. We had reviewed the constrictions again upon his arrival in early afternoon. Somehow during late-evening performance, George suffered a serious attack of major confusion. As he later apologetically explained to me:

“Hey, Man. I know we talked, but I couldn’t remember whether you said to do it,  or if I was supposed not to do it. I knew it was one or the other.  I decided to do it.  I’m right half the time!”

He did do it.

Fortunately, it was during their final number of the night that George stripped-down to nothing more than a purple, iridescent jock-strap. Admonishing the crowd to “move your ass and your mind will follow”, he then started moaning loudly. His next message was quite distinct and clearly delivered. He wanted to “Suck-and-Fuck-and-Lick-and-Stick-Tight-White Teeny-Bopper-Pussy!!!”

In and of themselves, the words and thoughts alone were more than enough to warrant immediate police action. And it was a large Black man who was standing there, two super-trooper spotlights savagely illuminating his jock-stap. It glittered and sparkled and shot-off shimmering, multi-colored, laser-like rays into the night.  The combination of language and imagery immediately offered unnerving, unswerving visions of an ultimate misogenetic hell to dozens of White men with badges.

Chief Ed Boyce was frozen in shock. The rest of the Township forces, tired after nearly twelve hours of security detail, looked to Ed for an indication of intent. Ed looked at me. I looked at Ed. The group was ending their last song anyway and George had already left the stage.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!  George Clinton!  Parliament and Funkadelic!  Thank You and Good Night!! ”

The police report ran six pages and was completed by Chief Boyce and four officers. Along with what George actually said were offered many creative interpretations of what he might also have said and could have been thinking about saying. Most of the writers were former Marines. George was taken downtown. He was instantly released. Again, the Prosecutor’s Office refused to officially charge “obscenity”, but Ed had done his best and certainly that was all that should be expected. Payment which would have gone to the band was donated to several charities. Ed requested that his eyes never again set sight on the group within fifty miles of Davison City Hall. George had made a lasting impression.

Two days later, a Friday the Thirteenth brought good luck with the much-delayed release of the PULSE Spring ’71 ratings book. WTAC continued its strong performance from the prior Fall and actually gained a little ground in Flint, shifting upward to a 16.4% share of total audience. It was the last completely dominant measurement the station would ever again experience.

6 Responses to ““Local DJ””

  1. David M. Teegarden, Sr. Says:

    Quite an incredible telling of an amazing story….

  2. Rick Fox Says:

    This is a really well-written blog and I am enjoying it immensely, having been both a touring musician and a radio guy!

    I have one factual error to point out. Jim Morrison was 27 years old when he died and thus made it completely through his 27th year, which started on his 26th birthday. He actually died in his 28th year.

    Since one has no “0” birthday, one’s “first” year of existence begins at birth and ends at age 1, at which point one commences into one’s second year. We are always living in a year of existence that is numerically one higher than our age.

    Again, love the blog…this is a great read!

    Best,
    Fox

  3. petercavanaugh Says:

    David!

    How wonderful having you check in!

    I would KILL for an MP3 copy of “Annie Had a Baby”, not having been able to find it anywhere through the years. I still have the LP, but no turntable anymore. Ah, the shame of it. With best wishes always, “Peter C.”

    • Bruce Says:

      Hey Pete,
      Don’t have an mp3 of “Annie” with me today ( I currently do my internetin’ at the library) but would be glad to email you a copy on Monday (if Tee hasn’t already sent you one prior to that, he’s prone to such acts of kindness!). No killing will be required…
      regards,
      Bruce McQueary

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