Thursday

WELCOME TO BLITZ MAGAZINE'S WEB SITE!

 



JUST IN TIME: Pioneering vocal virtuoso, composer and producer Mel Carter has released a masterpiece of epic proportions with his latest self-produced album, Mel Carter Continues. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell discusses this landmark release with Carter, as well as highlights of his most impressive, nearly six decade career. Click on "Mel Carter Interview" under Previous Posts at right for the full story.  (Click on above image to enlarge).

THIS IS THE INTERNET HOME FOR BLITZ MAGAZINE -
THE ROCK AND ROLL MAGAZINE FOR THINKING PEOPLE

Welcome to the official web site for Blitz, The Rock And Roll Magazine For Thinking People. Since 1975, Blitz has been the leading voice for the discerning music enthusiast. Blitz Magazine was also one of the first magazines of its kind to embrace the internet, having also been online since January 1996.


Here you will find news and updates about all of the key artists essential to the growth and development of rock and roll music and related genres, including rhythm and blues, country and western, jazz and easy listening. For highlights from recent past editions of the Bits And Pieces and Shape Of Things To Come columns, click on the archival postings on the right hand side of this page. Be sure and check back frequently for regular updates.

If you have any questions, please e-mail us at BlitzMcD@aol.com.


Michael McDowell
Editor/Publisher
Blitz Magazine
Since 1975 - The Rock And Roll Magazine For Thinking People

E-Mail us at BlitzMcD@aol.com for a list of available back issues.


Be sure to follow Blitz on Twitter:
@BlitzMagazine
and
on Facebook at:
Blitz Magazine - The Rock And Roll Magazine For Thinking People

AUDREY'S MUSICAL JOURNEY:

Follow the fascinating and unfolding tale (through her favorite music) of the life and times of Blitz Magazine's late and beloved Photo Editor, Audrey McDowell, as told by her husband, Blitz Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell. A Facebook exclusive! "Like" us on Facebook at Blitz Magazine - The Rock And Roll Magazine For Thinking People, and watch for further installments.

IN THE BITS AND PIECES COLUMN:

Monkees lead guitarist Michael Nesmith brought the Monkees' legacy to the annual Comic Con convention in mid-May. We follow his account in his own words. First generation garage rock pioneers the Jelly Bean Bandits end their brief sabbatical with a timely remake of a Buffalo Springfield classic. We also pay tribute to rock and roll veteran Bobby Curtola, whose work for the Del-Fi and Tartan labels is legendary, as well as country rock pioneer Johnny Sea, whose prophetic 1966 Day For Decision single remains an inspirational classic.

IN THE REISSUES / ANTHOLOGIES SECTION OF
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME COLUMN:

One Day Music has made available a superb thirty-one track, two CD collection featuring the Decca and Piccadilly label era releases by the legendary Joe Brown And The Bruvvers. The prolific, U.K.-based Real Gone Music label has released an extraordinary four CD collection, The Imperial Records Story 1962, which chronicles the legendary label's best releases for that year. Legendary songwriter Roger Atkins is the subject of a Various Artists tribute CD in the latest installment of the Songwriter series on Ash Wells' Rare Rockin' Records label. Roy Orbison is the subject of an extensive box set chronicling his entire catalog for MGM Records.


IN THE NEW RELEASES SECTION OF
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME COLUMN:

In the New Releases section of The Shape Of Things To Come column, the ambitious Atlanta, Georgia based vocalist and composer, Gwen Hughes takes on classics by Carlene Carter and Swing Out Sister and mixes it with duly inspired and richly diverse original material in her latest Zoho release, Native Land. Burbank, California composer, vocalist and humorist Bill Berry draws from the inspiration of such diverse legends as Al Bowlly, Jonathan Richman, George Formby and Tom Lehrer in his latest Songwriter's Circle CD, Awkward Stage.  Seattle quartet Made Of Boxes makes a decisive step towards bringing originality back into the forefront with their self-titled new album. Guitar virtuoso and Youngstown, Ohio native Mike Pachelli has confounded expectations again with his sixteenth and latest release, Fade To Blue. Southeastern Michigan based folk/Gospel duet, Joe Kidd And Sheila Burke have raised the bar considerably with their debut collaboration, Everybody Has A Purpose.  Legendary Goldwax Records blues giant Wee Willie Walker returns to form with his latest Little Village Foundation release, If Nothing Ever Changes Mark V and Peppermint Trolley Company co-founder Danny Faragher presents thirteen astoundingly diverse and well written originals in his new solo CD, Dancing With The Moment. Country rock stalwarts Alabama have returned with their first new studio album in fourteen years, Southern Drawl. After a protracted sabbatical to reassess priorities and strategy, Garfield's Birthday co-founder and Pink Hedgehog Records CEO Simon Felton has returned with a most ambitious new solo endeavor, Emotional Feedback. California blues rock quartet, The Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter John Zipperer has issued one of the most engaging new releases in recent months with his Nick Kirgo-produced album, Full Circle. 

Tuesday

MEL CARTER INTERVIEW




ENTER LAUGHING: Pioneering virtuoso vocalist, composer, arranger, producer and Cincinnati, Ohio native Mel Carter released a career highlight in the closing weeks of 2015 with what is arguably his finest album to date, Mel Carter Continues. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell discusses the making of this groundbreaking album with Carter (complete with exclusive commentary by project collaborator and fellow legend Lenny Welch), as well as some of the highlights of a remarkable career that has spanned more than half a century.  Above: Welch (left) and Carter share a laugh in the studio during the recording of Mel Carer Continues. Welch was guest vocalist on the Carter-penned duet, The Legends Of Rock And Roll.

THE REVOLVING DOOR TEST:
MEL CARTER CONTINUES
WITH BRAND NEW ALBUM
Interview By Michael McDowell

With the rise to prominence of rock and roll, there came into the picture a small yet highly influential group of remarkably gifted vocalists whose extraordinary range and commanding execution of high drama material earned each of them widespread respect as a “singer’s singer”. Among them are George Jones, Sam Cooke, Lou Christie, Jackie Wilson, Gene Pitney, Roy Hamilton and one time Jay and the Americans front man, David “Jay Black” Blatt.

Most assuredly also an integral part of that vaunted group is Cincinnati, Ohio native and multi-octave vocal virtuoso, Mel Carter. Having developed his skills with Gospel music as a member of the Baptist church, Carter went on to record for Mercury/Philips and Derby. At Derby, he literally interned under the best, as the aforementioned Sam Cooke (who was co-owner of the Derby label) assisted in nurturing Carter’s vision to fruition. Carter’s resultant When A Boy Falls In Love album for Derby was an ideal showcase for his extraordinary vocal versatility, as evidenced therein via his interpretations of We’ll Bless Each Day With Our Love, Why I Call Her Mine and After The Parting The Meeting Is Sweeter.

But it was during his tenure with Imperial Records that Carter’s legacy grew exponentially. In mid-1965, his lavishly arranged and passionately rendered rendition of Karen Chandler’s Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me provided him with his long time signature track (as well as a sterling example of his command of jazz with the Dave Brubeck-flavored flip side, A Sweet Little Girl). Throughout his affiliation with Imperial, Carter recorded a variety of impressive interpretations of much loved classics by such artists as Don Cherry, Paul Anka, Tom Jones and Adam Wade, as well as such instantly memorable tracks as The Richest Man Alive and You’ve Got To Take The Bad With The Good.

In 1966, Carter took on the challenge of interpreting one of the best loved and most intricately structured new compositions of the year. At that time, the gifted actor, vocalist and composer, Adriano Celentano drew considerable acclaim for his sublime social commentary, Il Ragazzo Della Via Gluck. The great Francoise Hardy took note, and turned in a world class reinterpretation of it as La Maison Ou J’ai Grandi.

That summer, Capitol Records’ artist Verdelle Smith refined Il Ragazzo Della Via Gluck to perfection as Tar And Cement. Carter in turn rose to the occasion magnificently, bringing a unique interpretation to Smith’s rendition that featured significant variations in both meter and phrasing.

Following his successful association with Imperial, Carter persevered for a season with Imperial’s affiliate, Liberty Records. He continued to record with such labels as Bell, Amos, Romar, Private Stock and Cream. Carter also performed live regularly, earning considerable acclaim for his show stopping appearance at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in the 1990s.

Following that Greek Theatre appearance, Carter drew attention from supporters backstage that evening for sharing with them his ongoing enthusiasm for opera. While opera was not necessarily viewed as an addition to his own repertoire, it was nonetheless indicative of Carter’s intentions to elevate the standards in what he perceived as an aesthetic decline within the genres in which he had flourished to date.

That ongoing mission statement came to fruition and more than exceeded expectations in the closing weeks of 2015 with the release of his all new CD, Mel Carter Continues. Produced by Carter and recorded at Theta Sound Studios in Burbank, California, Mel Carter Continues is a musically outspoken, superbly arranged and impeccably executed collection of beloved and groundbreaking classics by Annie Laurie, Ivory Joe Hunter, Johnny Ace, the Ink Spots, Little Willie John, Mahalia Jackson and others, combined with captivating, like minded original material which makes it abundantly clear that Carter is both a perfectionist, with a refreshingly outspoken intolerance for mediocrity.

To underscore the point, Carter called upon long time colleague and fellow “singer’s singer”, Lenny Welch to accompany him on the engaging and somewhat ironic Carter original, The Legends Of Rock And Roll.

“Ironic” in that neither artist made their mark directly in rock and roll. While Welch had proven himself most adept within the genre (to wit, the track Mama Don’t Hit That Boy on his landmark 1963 Since I Fell For You album for Archie Bleyer’s Cadence label), both he and Carter are nonetheless at home with the rich, high drama standards of such greats as the aforementioned Ivory Joe Hunter and Johnny Ace, each of whom also were able to flourish in both balladry and uptempo material. The fact that The Legends Of Rock And Roll makes its point with lush orchestration solidifies Carter’s (and Welch’s) clarion call for unity amongst the protagonists of the various sub genres.

Welch most definitely shares Carter’s perspective.

“I think his CD is fantastic”, said Welch.

“Everything about it is great. Mel's voice is great. He picked some of the best songs, and the arrangements are the best ever.”

Indeed, Mel Carter Continues is irrefutable proof that Carter remains one of the most supremely gifted artists in all of music. Blitz Magazine concurred, with Mel Carter Continues ranked as one of the three best new releases of 2015 in the annual Blitz Awards.

“I am so happy that he asked me to be a part of it”, said Welch.

“He is my friend and always will be. I have nothing but respect for one of the best singers ever, my friend Mel Carter!”

Duly enthusiastic about the project, Mel Carter recently shared with Blitz his insights into the creative process behind Mel Carter Continues, as well as some of the highlights of his long and most impressive career.

BLITZ: You initially recorded for Mercury and Philips in 1961-1962, and released an acclaimed duet single with Clydie King for Philips. In 1963, you signed with SAR Records' affiliate Derby label, which was co-owned by Sam Cooke. At Derby, you released three singles and an album that indicated both a shift in musical direction and seemingly greater attention to the intrinsic details of the recording process. Given that Cooke had a long standing reputation as a perfectionist, did his perspective impact you as such in the recording studio?

CARTER: Yes, his impact for the details in the music and arrangements was amazing to me. I think most of the session I was on cloud twenty-four! Funny, I remembered another connection with Sam through Bumps Blackwell.

I was signed to Mercury Records by Quincy Jones and had a single out, I Need You So. The Clydie King duet came after. I will try and find my 45 of the tune and see what the date is. I'm not sure but I think it is on the label. I do believe it was before the duet.

BLITZ: You moved to the Imperial label in 1964, just prior to Sam Cooke's tragic passing. What prompted you to join forces with Imperial?

CARTER: Sam had an option to pick up my contract for another year. Eddie Ray, who was the head of Imperial Records, had expressed an interest in having me at his label.

Zelda, who ran the office at SAR/Derby records, and I had a talk with Sam and J.W. (Alexander), Sam's partner, about getting out of the contract. Sam said that he would not stand in the way of my career and wished me all the best. He was that kind of a guy.

BLITZ: During your affiliation with Imperial Records, you made your mark in a most substantial way with covers of Karen Chandler's Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me and Don Cherry's Band Of Gold. Both featured lavish arrangements, even more so than did the original versions.

But you really demonstrated considerable ambition in 1966 by taking on the challenge of covering Adriano Celentano's Il Ragazzo Della Via Gluck. Francoise Hardy highlighted the high drama of the original when she interpreted it as La Maison Ou J'ai Grandi. Arguably, Verdelle Smith did the same thing when she brought the piece to the next level as Tar And Cement.

Given the intrinsic challenges of such a composition, including minors, key changes, a formata that included a slight decrescendo and the like, you went for the only remaining viable option, which was to reinvent the piece and in a sense return to the unlikely optimism (at least in terms of delivery) of Celentano's original. What prompted you to take on such a challenging piece?

CARTER: Actually, it wasn't me who picked the song. In those days, the A&R department would pick the songs. At that time, I guess they thought I could sing anything!

All the hits I had in the beginning at Imperial were cover songs that had been hits some years earlier. They called me the bring back alive kid at the label!

BLITZ: While backstage after a performance at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, you engaged in a spirited discussion about opera. Was that a new or recurring passion in your musical mission statement?

CARTER: I enjoy opera, having met some leading tenors who thought that with more study, I could possibly be working on stage with them. Ha, ha, ha!.

BLITZ: Your most recent release, Mel Carter Continues is an astounding testimony to both your creative vision and your formidable capabilities as a composer and vocalist. Interestingly enough, the album begins with your interpretation of Judy Holliday and Sydney Chaplin's Just In Time, which opens with such unlikely observations as, "I was resting comfortably face down in the gutter", "There's no hope for him, my dearest friends would mutter" and "I was something dragged in by the cat". While the subsequent lyrics of course take on a more positive approach, could those opening lines possibly suggest an undercurrent of the dichotomy that has persisted with regards to the ongoing dissimilarity of purpose between the gifted artist and the mainstream media for the past half century or so?

CARTER: I don't know. There will always be that faction that as music changes, the mainstream media has to be on top of things. So the gifted artist will suffer for lack of visibility, but not creativity.

BLITZ: Your original composition, The Way Out Is The Way In, which was written in tandem with Alex Gerber, seems to take that perspective a step further. While chronicling a romantic interlude on the surface, the notion that staying the course will inevitably lead to a return to the starting point in a journey nonetheless persists. What were your inspirations in drawing such a conclusion?

CARTER: The lyrics were written by my then writing partner, Alex Gerber Jr. My thoughts were that of a man who loves so much that his love can hold and be strong, even when it is challenged by her leaving and returning. The changes of the loss of love is not on his part, but hers.

BLITZ: With your interpretation of Johnny Ace's late 1954 signature track, Pledging My Love, you stayed fairly faithful to Ace's original rendition. But in taking on the Mahalia Jackson/Laurie London Gospel classic, He's Got The Whole World In His Hands, you seem to be emphasizing the Philippians 4:12-13 attributes that are indigenous to the lyrics, which those earlier renditions only alluded to as part of the overall message. Your thoughts?

CARTER: I'm able to give an emotional feeling to the lyrics of this song. because of my religious up bringing in the Baptist church, and singing with Robert Anderson and Raymond Raspberry.

BLITZ: You salute several of the absolute masters with your renditions of Ivory Joe Hunter's signature track, Since I Met You Baby (which you, interestingly enough, interpreted with an Atlantic-era Ray Charles-like arrangement), as well as the Ink Spots' If I Didn't Care, plus Little Willie John's Let Them Talk and Talk To Me.

You mentioned in the sleeve notes that you had met John early on in your career. Your musical visions were very much in solidarity, as evidenced by his own unique interpretation of Paul Whiteman's Sleep. What insights did he share with you during that encounter?

CARTER: I met Little Willie John in Cincinnati, Ohio as a teenager. I was a fan, just being happy to be in his company. There was no discussion of any music. Just me being a big fan!

BLITZ: There is a trilogy of tracks on Mel Carter Continues that seem to define the overall mission statement of the project. One is your decidedly unique take on Annie Laurie's DeLuxe Records single, It Hurts To Be In Love. While Laurie's 1957 original emphasized rich vocal harmonies, you nonetheless carried the song as a solo vocal, augmented by the lavish big band arrangements that have highlighted much of your earlier work.

CARTER: Somewhat. I look for a song that has a great story and a fantastic melody. My mission is to paint you a picture and you feel the emotion of the song that has a beginning, a middle and ending. The fact that you like my writing and the Annie Laurie tune is just too much!

BLITZ: To that effect, the mainstream media at one time was nearly the only available outlet for musical developments. Yet it has long ceased to be a force of consequence, due in part to its overall insistence upon placating the lowest common denominator. However, in recent years, the various outlets available through the internet have enabled many a veteran artist such as yourself to both flourish and maintain creative autonomy. One prominent musician even observed that, from his perspective, that the current era is, "The best time to be in a career in music". Would you concur?

CARTER: It is a good time for performers young and not so young to get their music out there to be heard. But I will say this: you still need the finances that the mainstream media has in order to compete on a larger scale. We still need to be seen and heard. That makes a big difference between all of us.

I will continue to make music and give you the highest quality of my creative ability for as long as I'm truly able. Thank you for listening and responding and getting what I'm doing. Mel Carter Continues!

FLAMIN' GROOVIES INTERVIEW


LOVETIME: The Flamin' Groovies (shown above at the Magic Bag in Ferndale, Michigan on 13 November 2015 as part of their Fiftieth Anniversary Tour) paid homage to the victims of the tragedy in France, and concurrently proved why they remain one of rock and roll's most respected and impacting bands. In the following interview, Blitz Magazine Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell spoke at length with lead guitarist and co-founder Cyril Jordan about the band's impressive legacy and plans for the future. Left to right: George Alexander (bass), Victor Penalosa (drums), Cyril Jordan (lead guitar), Chris Wilson (lead vocals and rhythm guitar). Click on above image to enlarge. (Photo by Michael McDowell. C&P Blitz Magazine 2015. All rights reserved).

TELL ME AGAIN:
AN INTERVIEW WITH FLAMIN' GROOVIES
LEAD GUITARIST CYRIL JORDAN

For the veteran San Francisco band, the Flamin’ Groovies, the evening of Friday the thirteenth of November 2015 was a bittersweet one.

The band, which had been touring across the United States and Canada in celebration of its fiftieth anniversary as a group, was en route from Chicago, Illinois (where they had performed the previous evening) to the Detroit, Michigan northern suburb of Ferndale, where they were to headline (with the ambitious and charismatic trio, the Hentchmen) at the vaunted Magic Bag on Woodward Avenue near Nine Mile Road.

The band had no sooner escaped some unexpectedly treacherous weather while making their way along the eastbound I-94 Freeway, when they learned of the news of the tragic massacre in the French capital of Paris. The Flamin’ Groovies have long enjoyed a substantial fan base in France, and the news of this tragedy hit them quite hard.

True to form, the venerable quartet (which currently features founding members Cyril Jordan on lead guitar and George Alexander on bass, along with long time rhythm guitarist and primary lead vocalist Chris Wilson, as well as recently recruited drummer Victor Penalosa) determined that the show must go on, and took to the Magic Bag stage with the wisdom, discernment and class that has long defined them.

Those attributes were present in abundance throughout their hour long, career spanning set. Opening with their spirited rendition of the Byrds’ 1965 Columbia label single, I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better, the Flamin’ Groovies kept the proceedings as intense as possible with ambitious and fresh takes on their Bomp label single You Tore Me Down, their 1976 Sire label classic I Can’t Hide, a cover of the like-minded (and one-time Kama Sutra label mates) NRBQ’s I Want You Bad, their unique take (complete with pertinent lyrical revisions) of Freddy Cannon’s Tallahassee Lassie, Larry Williams’ 1959 Specialty label single She Said Yeah, their tried and true interpretation of Chuck Berry’s Don’t You Lie To Me and their often copied 1972 United Artists single, Slow Death.

But it was at that point in the proceedings that the band highlighted a fourth attribute of their mission statement: heart.

With Alexander, Jordan and Penalosa directing the capacity crowd’s attention to their colleague, Chris Wilson then gave a brief eulogy for the victims in France, and beckoned the audience to join him in a minute of silence.

True to form, the band then returned to the cause at hand. Closing out the evening’s proceedings with the title track of their 1976 Sire Records signature album, Shake Some Action, the Flamin’ Groovies then returned for an encore that included Teenage Head and a fresh look at their 1973 track Let Me Rock, which will be re-recorded and released on vinyl in 2016 in tandem with Record Store Day.

After the show, the band retired briefly to the backstage area, where they greeted a number of well wishers, including the Magic Bag’s Willy Wilson, as well as Second Chance/Ann Arbor alumnus Robin Branch Stewart, Blitz Magazine Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell and renowned graphic artist, Dennis Loren, who had served as Blitz’s art director from 1976 to 1980 and who had also designed the poster for that evening’s performance.

The accolades were not lost on current drummer, Victor Penalosa, who demonstrated onstage a thorough command of the band’s vast and vaunted repertoire.

“I grew up listening to them”, he said.

“So this is quite an honor for me. I’m grateful.

Interestingly enough, that repertoire took longer than usual to manifest itself. Having first come together from the remnants of a folk band, the Kingsmen (not to be confused with the duly named first generation garage rock legends who recorded for Florence Greenberg’s Wand label) and the Whistling Shrimp (from which founding drummer Danny Mihm came), the band that eventually became known as the Flamin’ Groovies first came together in 1965 with Mihm, guitarist Tim Lynch, and lead vocalist / rhythm guitarist Roy A. Loney, along with Cyril Jordan on lead guitar and George Alexander on bass.

The Flamin’ Groovies persevered for several years as a live band, perfecting their art and following through with their ardent passion as musicologists and record collectors in the process. Yet it was not until 1968 that the band at last opted to commit their work to vinyl. Recorded at Coast Recorders in San Francisco early that year, the resultant Sneakers album was an inspiring reaffirmation of rock and roll that was much needed at a time when the acrimony generated by what has since become known as the AM - FM wars began to cause much division within the rock and roll genre.

Comprised primarily of such Roy Loney compositions as I’m Drowning, My Yada, Golden Clouds and The Slide, the Sneakers album concluded with a sign of things to come, Prelude In A Flat To Afternoon Of A Pud.  To underscore the band’s overall mission statement at the time, the 1996 CD reissue of Sneakers on Bob Irwin’s Sundazed label includes ten bonus tracks recorded live at The Matrix in San Francisco in 1968, highlighted by superb covers of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Sportin’ Life, Wild About My Lovin’ and their instrumental B-side (of Daydream) monster classic, Night Owl Blues.

By 1969, the Flamin’ Groovies had perfected their mission statement to the point where they were ready to try their hand at a partnership with a major label. Epic Records obliged, and the Loney, Jordan, Alexander, Lynch and Mihm lineup of the band released the highly acclaimed Supersnazz album there that year.

While cover material continued to play a significant role in their repertoire at that point (represented on Supersnazz by Eddie Cochran’s Somethin’ Else, Al Dexter’s Pistol Packin’ Mama, Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns’ Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu and Little Richard’s The Girl Can’t Help It), the band pressed ahead therein with original material that challenged the growing dichotomy in the world of rock and roll as much as it reaffirmed their commitment to their mission statement.

To wit, the opening track, Love Have Mercy borrows its spoken introduction from the Solomon Burke/Wilson Pickett classic Everybody Needs Somebody To Love and then falls in step with both Sammy Lewis’ I Feel So Worried and Chuck Willis’ I Feel So Bad. In turn, Pagan Rachel takes its cue from the Nick Lucas/Henry Burr vaudeville/ragtime hybrid indigenous to many of Ian Whitcomb’s releases, while Brushfire hints at the folklore that characterizes much of the Band’s in progress work for Capitol.

Conversely, Supersnazz makes its case against the burgeoning rift in rock and roll with the brilliant A Part From That by opening with the guitar riff from the Bee Gees’ I Started A Joke and then immediately offering a faux serious take on the somber, string-laden and self-indulgent material found on a significant percentage of the Beatles’ late 1968 self-titled double LP. which is also known as The White Album.

Such was obviously not a formula that would have endeared them to the increasingly narrow parameters of taste championed within the immediate post-Woodstock contingent. Their concerns were heightened briefly with the departure of lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Loney for a solo career in 1971. However, he was most capably succeeded in that capacity by Chris Wilson.

Undaunted, the band then signed with Kama Sutra. The resultant Teenage Head and Flamingo albums went on to play a significant part in the re-appreciation of basic rock and roll that at last came full circle by the mid-1970s with the emergence of the so-called punk and new wave movements.

In the interim, the band spent the early part of the decade touring with Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, headlining throughout Europe, signing with United Artists and releasing what many consider to be their signature single, Slow Death. The late Bomp Records President (and one time Blitz Magazine art director) Greg Shaw recognized a movement to come, and released a highly acclaimed single in 1974, coupling the original You Tore Me Down with a refreshing interpretation of Paul Revere and the Raiders’ 1967 monster classic, Him Or Me, What’s It Gonna Be?

By 1976, vengeance was theirs. Teaming with the enormously respected vocalist, songwriter and guitar virtuoso Dave Edmunds as their producer, the Flamin’ Groovies signed with Seymour Stein’s Sire Records and released the landmark Shake Some Action album. Widely regarded as one of the genre’s definitive masterpieces, Shake Some Action produced the acclaimed I Can’t Hide single and prompted two additional albums for the label.

However, the band’s commitment to creative autonomy led them to realize that major label affiliation was perhaps not the most suitable route for their uncompromising mission statement. They returned to independent status, releasing One Night Stand in 1987 and Rock Juice in 1993 before embarking upon a protracted sabbatical.

During the break, Jordan attempted to sustain the momentum in 2005 with the formation of a new band, Magic Christian. Three years later, he and Loney reunited for a brief tour, with members of Yo La Tengo and the A-Bones serving as their backing band. Jordan has also continued to refine his journalistic skills in the present decade, having become a contributing columnist to Mike Stax’s essential, San Diego-based Ugly Things magazine.

Not surprisingly, a band with such a storied legacy was not yet ready to be referred to in the past tense. In 2013, Jordan, Alexander and Wilson opted to reunite. In the process, they recruited Victor Penalosa to succeed the ailing Danny Mihm as the band’s drummer. Since that time, they have continued to tour to considerable acclaim, and are putting the finishing touches on new recordings, set for 2016 release.

As the proceedings at the Magic Bag drew to a close that evening, Blitz Magazine and Cyril Jordan made arrangements to speak at length the following afternoon. While the band was en route along I-80 to that evening’s performance in Cleveland, Ohio, Blitz Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell and Jordan enjoyed the resultant, following exchange, which was conducted on George Alexander’s cell phone.

BLITZ: The story of the Flamin’ Groovies has been told many times in the past. However, the various accounts raise as many questions as they answer. The band that became the Flamin’ Groovies first got together in 1965. Some of the band’s founding members had been in a group called the Kingsmen. Originally, their aspirations had been more towards playing folk music.

JORDAN: We were actually called the Chosen Few. We found out a couple of months later that there were like twenty-two Chosen Fews in California! I wasn’t too impressed with the name. But I was the youngest member of the band, so I had no say. I thought it was a bit pretentious.

Anyway, we quickly changed the name. Actually, not “we”, as I didn’t have anything to do with it!

As the Chosen Few, we were doing songs by Them, the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones. The folk thing was George, Timmy and Roy, a couple of years before I got together with them. George was a really good guitar finger picker, like Joan Baez. I didn’t realize he could play guitar that well, as he was our bass player.

When I came in, everything was switched over to R&B and rock and roll.

BLITZ: Other like minded bands at the time, such as the Guess Who, drew much of their inspiration for cover material from their own record collections. Was that also the case with the Flamin’ Groovies?

JORDAN: We were no different from a lot of the high school bands in California that fell in love with the British Invasion. If it wasn’t (the Nashville Teens’) Tobacco Road, it was (Them’s) Baby Please Don’t Go or Mystic Eyes. Or (the Yardbirds’ cover of Tiny Bradshaw’s) Train Kept A Rollin’ or (the Yardbirds’ cover of Manfred Mann’s) Mister You’re A Better Man Than I. Or Around And Around and Empty Heart by the Stones. The list is long.

Most of the bands were into that, like the guys who did Psychotic Reaction.

BLITZ: The Count Five.

JORDAN: Right. I got to see those guys about fifteen years ago. I met one of them, and went down to hear them. I’d heard they were getting back together. And they were still playing Mister You’re A Better Man Than I!

BLITZ: Ultimately, Better Man Than I ended up being a hit in 1966 for Terry Knight and the Pack, although the Yardbirds were the ones who really brought that one out to many people’s attention.

JORDAN: I think the best version was by the Sons Of Adam!

BLITZ: That one was good. And the New Colony Six did an approximately eight minute version of it on their second album, Colonization.

JORDAN: Well, there you go! That shows you that most of the bands from that era in America, especially on the West Coast, started cutting their teeth on British R&B.

BLITZ: As things started to change in rock and roll overall, you stayed the course with your original musical focus instead. The way it played out at the time in California was a little bit different than it was elsewhere. But in the midwest, there was a growing dichotomy and resultant acrimony as the late 1960s approached, resulting in a split between the so-called AM and FM factions. Improvisation and noodling became more commonplace. But the Flamin’ Groovies stayed for the most part with the verse, chorus and bridge template.

JORDAN: Well, we had our own tastes. And the new trends that we had followed were the rock and roll and R&B trends. But the other trends that followed, we ignored.

We didn’t get into this business to make money. We got into it for the cool of doing it. We then developed an attitude that nobody tells us what trend (to follow). We tell them! And nobody tells us how, either.

BLITZ: You demonstrated that succinctly with the release of your Sneakers album in 1968. The CD reissue version contains live material from 1968 as bonus tracks. At a time when many bands were trying to outdo one another with improvisation, the Flamin’ Groovies did three Lovin’ Spoonful covers instead.

JORDAN: We were, and especially me. I had a big box, marked with an “L”, for learning. And any record I threw in that box, I learned. I had the Surfaris, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and then to George Harrison, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.
You know, each year, as new bands came out, I would learn everything on their albums. So I was influencing the band quite a bit, because when we got together when George and I came over to Timmy’s house. I brought the drummer, Ron Greco and Roy was there.

Within an hour and a half we became a band. Because we were sitting around, saying, “So what do you want to do now?

So I started with those songs, and said, “Let’s go!” Everybody knew those songs. We just hadn’t played them all the way through. Then all of a sudden, we looked at each other and said, “Hey, we’re a band! We can do a set!!

We continued on with this process of learning the chops of these groups, and then brought that into the live performance.

BLITZ: In that 1968 live performance, you got the best of both worlds in there with a version of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Night Owl Blues. Whereas you pretty much nailed their single, as that single started to fade, you kept it going in your rendition for a while longer. It demonstrated that the band really had their chops in order by that time.

JORDAN: We started improvising a little bit at that time. The psychedelic scene did influence us to a degree. We would do long leads and long outros, and then just go into a jam. But that ended pretty quickly. It was only for about a year that we were doing that.

BLITZ: Eventually, the band came to the point where, whether it was in terms of radio airplay, or public reaction, that when you signed with Epic Records in 1969, the so-called counter culture was in place. Bands writing original material based on the classic verse, chorus and bridge template were become less and less common in the United States at that time. Nonetheless, you held your ground. What sort of reactions did you get, and what was your response to it?

JORDAN: The audiences in San Francisco weren’t too impressed. But every once in a while, we would open for Ray Charles, or somebody like that. And they would be real impressed!

We got a gig opening for Ike and Tina Turner, because Ray Charles turned them on to us. We actually wrote Headin’ For The Texas Border for the Ray Charles show that we were going to do at Basin Street West. The intro and lick came from Ray’s song, I Don’t Need No Doctor.

A couple of years later, when we were asked to open for Ike and Tina Turner whenever they played in California, one night I was backstage with Ike Turner. I asked him, “Hey, how did you guys find out about us?” He said, “Ray told me”. And I said, “Ray? Ray who?” And he said, “Ray Charles”.

That’s why we were on United Artists, because Ike and Tina were on United Artists. In those days, if you opened for one of the big guys and they dug you, then they brought you down the pike. You got signed to their label and you did gigs with them. It was a great way to enter show business! You were the protégé of some big star.

BLITZ: In a way, it was like a second chance for the band after the situation with Epic Records didn’t work out for you. It sounds as though Epic didn’t know what to do with the band.

JORDAN: They didn’t, because they thought we were a San Francisco band. We were big record collectors. As the years went by, we were buying records by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Django Reinhart, and we were listening to everything we could grab!

I got an album called, The Blues Came Down From Memphis. There were Sun 78s on the cover. Love Have Mercy was stolen from (Sammy Lewis’) I Feel So Worried. We were ripping songs off from that album all the way up to Teenage Head. In fact, Doctor Boogie from that album is taken from The Boogie Disease.

BLITZ: Doctor Ross.

JORDAN: Right, Doctor Ross. We loved showing off our influences, like the Rolling Stones did in their early days. That’s who we were.

BLITZ: Not unlike your unintentional namesake, Cyril Davies then. It was the same situation with him.

JORDAN: Exactly!

BLITZ: To that effect, some of the original material on the Epic album is really well written. It sounds as though there is an element of familiarity in much of it, as if to say that one has heard it somewhere before, but it is still original. That in and of itself is much of the appeal of the Supersnazz album. Especially at a time like 1969, when such attributes were in relatively shorter supply.

JORDAN: Like I said, we were listening to so much older music and applying it to us. The process of learning that material influenced our playing and my writing.

Again, we were really into showing off our influences. Later on, when we started doing the Beatles on stage with From Me To You and Please, Please Me, it was all about showing off! Those songs are almost impossible to play live. If you can do it, it shows that you are a very advanced player.

It was all about showing off! We didn’t care if it wasn’t original, or if people said, “That’s the Beatles! What are you doing?

I said, “What we’re doing is ducking becoming advanced craftsmen, and you people are too stupid to know that’s why we’re doing it!

BLITZ: Please correct us if we are wrong, but it sounds as though you carried that perspective into your next album. By the time you signed with Kama Sutra after the connection with Epic fell through, it sounds as though the label might have been trying to push you more in that direction, but you continued to hold your ground.

JORDAN: Well, Richard Robinson and Lenny Kaye were the guys that signed us to Kama Sutra. They loved our take on anything that we did. They were also record collectors. So they got a big kick out of watching us learn something new and then having it brought into our band’s sound. They pretty much let us do what we wanted.

All of our record contracts had an artistic license clause, which said that nobody at the label could tell us what we were going to do in the studio.

BLITZ: To that effect, during your affiliation with Kama Sutra, you continued to produce some original material that drew from inspiration. There was still that element of familiarity, the best example of which is probably the track Evil Hearted Ada. The Jack Scott-like vocals and the echo worked. It had the best of both worlds.

JORDAN: Evil Hearted Ada was based on the Scotty Moore link from (Elvis Presley’s cover of Junior Parker’s) Mystery Train. I was just learning finger picking at that time. Scotty was one of the guys I studied.

Roy was a big Gene Vincent fan. It was a fusion of Gene Vincent and Scott Moore, along with Elvis.

Plus, there was a side to us that was steeped in hilarity. When Roy started doing his Gene Vincent on the echo, we were in hysterics in the booths!

BLITZ: That brings up an interesting point. You may or may not have heard this perspective before. When the Teenage Head and Flamingo albums were released on Kama Sutra, those who followed the band or whom had just become aware of them at the time seemed to, for whatever reason, draw the conclusion that there was a little bit of an impasse at play.

That is, those of that perspective would listen to the records, figure out what your intentions were, and then, given that the world of music was still engrossed in improvisation and noodling at the time, would say, “These guys are writing verse, chorus and bridge template songs. Yet they have a name like that”.

The name the Flamin’ Groovies seemed to raise questions in those circles as to whether or not the band was serious about what they were doing. And since you have affirmed that there was an element of being "steeped in hilarity” in the studio, there was some discussion about whether or not the band was putting on its audience. Have you heard that perspective before? If so, what was your reaction to it?

JORDAN: Basically, what was going on was that the older generation had gotten angry at Bob Dylan for going electric. Everybody who went to a college or university in the 1960s was under the impression that it was childish to play electric guitar. But with an acoustic guitar, you were an adult!

Electric guitar was considered teenybopper because of the Beatles. Those people were morons! Dylan (told them off) and went electric. He knew immediately how radical electric guitars plugged into amps were. We did the same thing.

Like I told you, the name came about because there is a hilarious side to the bunch of guys known as the Groovies. The name the Flamin’ Groovies was put in place the day after the Beatles’ last concert ever, in 1966. I went around saying, “Groovy!” to anything that anybody said to me. Everybody was looking at me and laughing at that.

So then Roy came over and said, “That’s so Flamin’ Groovy!” The name is actually because we were looking at the two syllable first words in names like the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Rolling Stones. So we became the Flamin’ Groovies. The name had that going for us. We wanted a name that conjured up the image that this was a band that was so fantastic that nobody could believe it! It was a name that nobody could live up to.

On one hand, we were doing a parody of the serious rock names. But on the other hand, we were trying to do a match. After that, we didn’t (care) about what anybody thought about our music or about our name.

I’m a righteous man. But I don’t give up ground. I take it! Nobody tells me what to do. Integrity! My heart is completely free of anyone attaching anything to it, whether it’s politics or another agenda.

I’m a purist. I have always taught that anybody who attaches anything like politics or another agenda to art is making a cheap shot. We are actually more serious than the so-called serious bands. Our take was that we knew more about rock, country and western, R&B than anybody else. Nobody was going to tell us about R&B! We were gonna tell them!! And we didn’t (care) if they dug it or not. We’re not here to stroke anybody.

BLITZ: The band did so in a two-fold manner with the singles that were released during the period of relative inactivity immediately post-Kama Sutra. You made the point with the Slow Death single on United Artists with a cover of Freddy Cannon’s Tallahassee Lassie on the flip side, and followed suit with the You Tore Me Down single on the Bomp label. In other words, you took a definitive stand when many people had not yet come around to that way of thinking.

Nonetheless, by 1976, you were vindicated, as the so-called punk and new wave movement caused many to realize that you were right in the first place, and they brought it full circle. You underscored the point by jumping right in there that year with your first Sire Records album, Shake Some Action.

JORDAN: What had happened was that in 1972, our first gig was in front of two hundred thousand people at a festival in a place called Bickershaw. We came on stage with motorcycle jackets and wearing chains. So we influenced the whole fashion era of England!

By the time we came back three years later, everybody was wearing leather motorcycle jackets in the bands. But we had moved up to the suits!

BLITZ: It seems that at that point, the Flamin’ Groovies came full circle in that you joined forces with the legendary Dave Edmunds as a producer. Many people consider the resultant Shake Some Action album to be a high watermark of the entire movement. That was your vindication album. With it, everyone at last rallied in your corner.

JORDAN: Oh yeah, for sure! But we actually got more flak for doing the Shake Some Action album than any of the other albums. There were always the idiots going, “They don’t know what they’re doing!” But who are they to tell an artist, “You should do this!? Did anyone tell Leonardo DaVinci what color Mona Lisa’s dress should be?

The intellectual morons killed rock and roll, destroyed the MC5, the Stooges and the Flamin’ Groovies. We went to England because of that.

By the time 1972 came around, the industry had boycotted rock on the radio. The problem was that you could get airplay on FM, but not on AM. But FM radio was too busy listening to (the Band’s 1969 Capitol label single) Up On Cripple Creek to listen to good and advancing American rock bands.

BLITZ: 1972 was still characterized to a large extent by all of the improvisation and noodling, which was the antithesis of what the Flamin’ Groovies were doing. But the interesting thing was that at Sire, you teamed up with Dave Edmunds, who had gone through similar circumstances himself as the lead guitarist of Love Sculpture. In other words, you were apparently both in the same frame of mind. How was it to work with Edmunds in the studio?

JORDAN: We immediately got on with Dave. The elements of affinity between the two of us were so many, that we lost count!

We influenced him, and he influenced us. The reason why he put the band Rockpile together was because of us.

Even in 1972, he had told me that he was never going to do a band again, because of what had happened with Love Sculpture. But when we came back in 1976 with Shake Some Action and he saw the response, Dave was hanging out with us. He was always playing us some stuff that (Rockpile rhythm guitarist) Billy Bremner had been recording. Billy was kind of a poor man’s Edmunds! He put out his own records and played everything on them.

Dave was always jazzed about what he had heard from Billy, and he would play them for us. So ultimately, this insolent band of musicians convinced Dave Edmunds to put a band together!

BLITZ: The Flamin’ Groovies remained with Sire Records for a third album, Jumpin’ In The Night. Then you suddenly parted ways with the label. Did your tenure with Sire simply run its course, or what had happened?

JORDAN: That is a long, long, long story that I’m going to save for my book! I don’t want to expose it right now, as I have to save some of it for the book I’m going to write.

Everyone keeps bugging me to write a book. But I am writing a column, and I have to remember to leave things out for the book!

I will tell you one thing. We were starting to get pretty fed up with Sire and (label President) Seymour (Stein).  Seymour gets sixty percent of our publishing! So I had decided that we were not going to write many songs for Jumpin’ In The Night. That’s why we did all of those covers.

I have to emphasize that we didn’t (care) about becoming millionaires or world famous. What we really cared about was nobody telling us what to do.

BLITZ: The band subsequently went the opposite route by recording independently. To that effect, the Rock Juice album was released on National Records. Apparently your resolve to maintain creative autonomy was still in place at that time.

JORDAN: Yeah. Well, you know rock and roll had died by 1980. All the electronic and techno (bands) were coming in at that time. And yet all of this came about after disco!

You know, the squares had taken over the grid in America, and eventually also in England. All I could say is that it had gotten from that point to where it is now, because everyone in music now who is making it big are all full of (it) artistically. They have got no influences and no roots. Which means that they must think they are geniuses like Johann Sebastian Bach by making their own music. I’m sorry, but they’re not geniuses, and they’re not craftsmen.

So why are they making a lot of money? Because people don’t know what art is! Jackson Pollock’s paintings are worth millions of dollars. But why does Jackson Pollock shoot paint off of a brush better than me or you? It is because of the intimidation of idiots being paid for greatness. They want to belittle greatness by giving credence to (substandard work). Whether it’s music or whether it’s art, it’s always the same story. The new guys get it wrong!

BLITZ: Well, at least your current fiftieth anniversary tour is apparently going better for you now than it did a couple of nights earlier in Chicago.

JORDAN: Yeah! After we hit Indiana, it was like all of the snow and sun glare in Alaska. But it’s real sunny here in Ohio!

THE WKNR KEENER 13 STORY, PART TWO: JIM SANDERS


WOW! WE HAVE A WINNER!: From October 1963 until April 1972, the suburban Detroit AM radio station known as WKNR Keener 13 set a standard of excellence in broadcasting that has never been equaled, nor surpassed. Since our inception in 1975, Blitz Magazine has repeatedly cited WKNR as the number one inspiration in the development of our own mission statement. In tandem with Blitz Magazine's fortieth anniversary celebration, Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell take a closer look at WKNR's vaunted legacy, with first hand observations from one of the visionaries who assisted in the station's transition from WKMH, James "Jim Sanders" Beasley (pictured above with his fellow Keener Key Men Of Music in a November 1963 edition of the weekly WKNR Music Guide).  (Click on image to enlarge).

THE WKNR KEENER 13 STORY:
PART TWO - AN INTERVIEW WITH
JIM SANDERS

Watch Your Step.

That classic single by Brooks O’Dell debuted at an impressive number nineteen on the third edition of the weekly WKNR Music Guide, which was dated 21 November 1963. Yet if the visionaries who launched the station on the thirty-first of October that year had heeded O’Dell’s advice, it is likely that the Keener 13 story would have been a considerably different one.

In its storied transition from its well programmed and superbly executed middle of the road format and Detroit Tigers flagship station as WKMH to what arguably remains the greatest overall radio station of all time as WKNR, every individual involved in that changeover drew from their respective formidable talents and broke precedent in the process. As a result, WKNR enjoyed the most rapid ascension from relative obscurity to the top of the ratings in the shortest amount of time (three months) in radio history.

As noted in the WKNR Keener 13 Story, Part One, the station did so despite several significant threats to its momentum in those early stages. To be certain, that is very much a testimony to the resilience and creative capabilities of air talent and management alike. Among those developments was an unprecedented “meltdown” on the air by morning man Mort Crowley on 24 January 1964, with virtually no advance warning.

Nothing in Crowley’s resume suggested the possibility of such an abrupt paradigm shift in on air demeanor, either. A veteran of such powerhouse stations as Los Angeles’ KHJ and Chicago’s WLS, Crowley’s upbeat and charismatic delivery was initially an ideal fit for the new WKNR format.

But on that fateful day in January 1964, Crowley reported for his shift, only to learn that the telephone company had demanded that the station was suddenly limited to the use of only one of their numerous phone lines. According to a memo that awaited Crowley when he arrived at the station that morning, the extremely high call volume from listeners was “jamming” the overall phone transmissions. An outspoken advocate for the everyday working individual, Crowley found this development to be unacceptable.

“People are living in fear today”, said Crowley during his final WKNR broadcast, with somewhat of a touch of the prophetic.

“This isn’t the way it should be.

Crowley underscored the point by playing the Marketts’ Out Of Limits single (which was number nine on the WKNR Music Guide that week) and commenting, “I’ve got to hand it to those guys way back there who dumped all of that tea in the Boston Harbor.

“The phone company is also a company that buys advertising to advertise the fact that they’ve got new phones, and so forth”, he continued during the final hour of his shift, as the Marketts’ disc concluded.

“They’re a monopoly, but they still advertise just to keep everything, you know, so it should look alright. So they have threatened us, and we have reacted with typical radio fortitude. They got scared! I’m not. I don’t care. The utilities have got you if you don’t watch out.”

Within minutes, Crowley’s observations turned inward, as he took a hard look at radio itself.

“It’s lovely to have those memos, and nobody tells you about them. That’s right. You’re just the employee, and you don’t count for anything. You know, the old idea, ‘You ought to be glad you’re working here’.

“We had a nice thing here. But who wants to work under those conditions? They’ve already gone into a paroxysm of fear. The phone company said, ‘We gotta do something about our phone lines’….and fine. There goes the voting.”

But from Crowley’s perspective, the real culprit was the original subject of his ire, and he redirected his comments accordingly. 

“That’s like trying to carve a statue, and the guy takes away all your chisels and your hammers”, he continued at the midpoint of his final hour.

“What I want to know is, who gives the telephone company, Ma Bell, this big utility, this monopoly, the right and the privilege to threaten businesses, to take out their phones if one of their lines gets a little bit overloaded? Who gives them that authority? The Interstate Commerce Commission? I wonder.”

As Crowley entered his final moments at WKNR, he did so with a slight undercurrent of melancholy.

“Well, I would like to say bon voyage”, he said.

“It’s been nice. We were reduced to one phone line. Perhaps you were wondering what this was all about as you listened on your car radio as you were coming down here.

“They should tell people these things. After all, you know, we’re supposed to be responsible for something. They should tell us about this a little ahead of time, (instead of) when you walk in here at 4:30 in the morning and see one stinking memo to tell you about this. How do you prepare for that, eh? Sometimes you wonder who the executives are working for around here!”

And with that, Mort Crowley’s brief tenure at WKNR came to an anti-climactic finale. He went on to successful radio ventures in Denver, Colorado and Saint Louis, Missouri before passing away in 1995. On the plus side, his abrupt departure opened the door for the great Frank “Swingin’” Sweeney to succeed him in the 5:00 to 9:00 AM slot, as chronicled extensively in The WKNR Keener 13 Story, Part One.

Crowley’s most dramatic exit from WKNR would have been more than enough to derail the momentum of just about any aspiring radio station. Yet it was actually the second such challenge faced by Keener 13, coming mere weeks after a far more dramatic turn of events that not only put WKNR to the test, but irrevocably altered the course of world history.

The morning of Friday the twenty-second of November 1963 was a routine one at WKNR, if indeed anything at such an ambitious enterprise could be characterized in that manner. Slightly more than a mere three weeks into its new format at that point, WKNR was already beginning to resonate with what was soon to become one of the most devoted listener bases in the history of the medium.

As the noon hour approached, afternoon man James “Jim Sanders” Beasley prepared for his 12:00 to 3:00 PM shift, checking news reports, the new edition (the third) of the WKNR Music Guide and the various tape carts that contained copies of the thirty-two singles featured therein that week. All the while, he had been going over in his mind the nuances of the format that availed themselves. Vaunted morning man Robin Seymour and Sanders were the only air personalities that were retained from the station’s days as WKMH, and Sanders was at that point was still diligently endeavoring to perfect the subtleties in delivery that were indigenous to the new format.

Meanwhile in Texas, President John F. Kennedy had delivered a speech to the Chamber Of Commerce in Fort Worth that morning. After a brief thirteen minute flight to neighboring Dallas, Kennedy, along with his wife, Jackie and Texas Governor John Connolly and his wife, Nellie then boarded the Presidential limousine (a 1961 Lincoln, which remains on permanent display at the Greenfield Village Museum in Dearborn, Michigan) for a parade that would take them through the streets of Dallas. Along the way, they were greeted by thousands of supporters and well wishers.

But  what happened as the motorcade progressed remains one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century. As Kennedy’s limousine passed through an area known as Dealey Plaza, shots were fired from the nearby Texas School Book Depository. Kennedy was hit twice, and died within the hour at nearby Parkland Hospital.

Sanders was little more than a half hour into his shift at WKNR at the time of the shooting. As he played the classic Stax label single, Walking The Dog by Rufus Thomas (which had finished its brief run on the WKNR Music Guide the previous week at number seventeen), Keener news anchor Bill Bonds (later a regular fixture at Southfield, Michigan’s WXYZ-TV) broke into the broadcast booth to announce the tragic news. As a result, Bonds and Sanders were credited with breaking the story in the greater Detroit area; further enhancing the station’s reputation in the process, while retaining an aura of professionalism under horrific circumstances that challenged even the most seasoned newscasters.

As if those two monumental events were not enough, WKNR during its first few months on the air faced yet another potential impasse with the departure of Sanders himself. Initially concerned that his position at the station would not survive the transition between WKMH and WKNR, Sanders had offered his services elsewhere. He was ultimately accepted for a position at an upcoming radio station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, unbeknownst at the time to WKNR management.

It has been said that hindsight is 20 / 20. By his own admission, Sanders would have handled those circumstances differently if given the opportunity to do so again. And while that turn of events did reportedly generate a modicum of ill will at the onset, it nonetheless ultimately served in part to open the door for not only the arrival of Swingin’ Sweeney, but the addition of legendary afternoon man, Jerry Goodwin, as well as the return of such WKMH greats as Paul Cannon and Bill Phillips to the station.

Meanwhile, the impact on WKNR’s listening audience and the cultural landscape in general continues unabated more than a half century after its debut. As a testimony to the station’s rich musical diversity, a superb and essential series of reissue CDs has been making the rounds within musicologist and collectors circles in recent months. The twenty volumes of the WKNR Keener 13 Hits CD series are superbly mastered, with many of the cuts in stereo. Each volume includes reproductions of portions of various Keener Music Guides on the front cover, with release year and WKNR chart peaks for every track, as well as a unique WKNR jingle to open each collection.

Some of the richly diverse fare featured in that series includes Tino and the Revlons’ first generation garage rock monster classic Little Girl, Little Girl, Susan Wayne’s euphoric and essential Think Summer, the Distant Cousins’ garage rocking She Ain’t Loving You, the Human Beings’ sublime Because I Love Her, the Emperors’ often copied Karate, Julie Monday’s gorgeous Come Share The Good Times With Me, Bob Seger and the Last Heard’s signature track East Side Story, the Strangeloves’ cover of Bunker Hill’s Hide And Seek under their alter ego of the Sheep, Sam E. Solo’s Ruby label power ballad Tears Keep Falling, Paul Vance’s high drama masterpiece Dommage, Dommage, the Capreez’ hard hitting Soulsation, the Wanted’s superb Don’t Worry Baby, the Third Rail’s hot rod homage Boppa Do Down Down, the Unrelated Segments’ Jack Chekaway-produced Story Of My Life and Where You Gonna Go?, Cody Black’s Northern Soul epic Going Going Gone, and Arnim-Hamilton’s International Artist label classic Pepperman, to name but a few

 
As for Sanders, despite his circumstances, he steadfastly remains grateful for the brief yet highly impacting role that he played in the explosive growth of the greatest radio station of all time. After enjoying a long and prolific career in radio, acting, singing and dance instruction, Sanders is currently retired and lives with his wife, Barbara in Tennessee.

In tandem with our fortieth anniversary celebration, Blitz Magazine recently spoke with Sanders for our multi-part salute to what remains our most impacting and enduring inspiration, the legacy of WKNR Keener 13 and the Keener Key Men Of Music.

BLITZ: Describe what went through your mind during your typical shift at WKMH in the summer and early fall of 1963. How did the impending format and call letter changes affect those who were still on board?

SANDERS: During the summer of 1963, the air staff of WKMH had no idea that any changes were coming. As production director and 12 to 3 show host, I was busy working with the sales department, writing and producing commercials, doing remote broadcasts from the Detroit Race Course, where I often had a show cut short by Detroit Tigers baseball day games and often working double shifts.

Part of my 12 to 3 show duties were to cover Robin Seymour's morning show and the evening show, which was being hosted by Bill Phillips. Bill came back to WKNR to do overnights after I left in January of 1964.

I had grown up in Detroit listening to Robin, and felt like my career had peaked by being on the same station and getting to substitute for him. The morning show was often done from Gene Merollis Chevrolet and required records and commercials to be done by a producer back at the studios.

Producers who supported me and Robin were Tom Ryan, who went on to become part of Detroit Radio and TV history, as well as Art Cervi, who later was a TV clown with great success in Detroit. I had hosted a TV kids show in Kalamazoo and in Columbus, Georgia before coming to WKMH. I recall having dinner often at Art Cervi's home and telling stories about funny things from my TV kid show days.

There was a pride in what we were doing on WKMH under PD Frank Maruca, affectionately called Black Frank by the jocks. We were aware that ratings for the station were not high and suspected that the station might be looking to make changes to the music mix in coming months. We all had our ideas of what needed to be done.

Frank Maruca, a promotional genius, was PD for a couple of years when the station was still WKMH and responsible for what you so correctly described as a well executed middle of the road, non rock station. He hired me a year before WKNR to do noon to three and as production director.

One day, we were told that the owner, Mrs. Knorr had hired a radio consultant named Mike Joseph to do research on Detroit radio. I had previously worked in Kalamazoo for a station that had used Mike Joseph for a sister station in Grand Rapids. I had some notes from him, which were considered and rejected for WKZO, which was an old line station similar to WJR.

Soon a cigar chomping man was hiring assistants to make phone calls and sitting in the office during the week with Maruca. This caused a great deal of anxiety for job security on the part of the air personalities, along with speculation.

I recall telling the producers and a couple of jocks that the ruse of research and learning work habits, shift change times and music preference was the way Joseph was setting the stage to convince Mrs. Knorr to hire him to do pretty much what he had previously done in other markets. I wrote an overview of what his weeks and months of "research" would uncover and put it in a sealed envelope and told a few co-workers that they could check this against the final results to see how close I was to predicting what this con man wound sell Mrs. Knorr.

Thinking back, I remember how immature I was and how I resisted direction and the consultation business, which Mike pretty much pioneered for radio. I also recall that my predictions were about ninety percent on the money, without research or any other expert analysis.

Bob Green and I have agreed in later years that many of us understood what needed to be done and the rigid format rules involving things like counting the number of times the call letters were given each hour were less important than what Bob calls "intelligent flexibility". The glory days of Keener came about when very talented jocks like Dick Purtan, Bob Green and Jerry Goodwin were allowed to bend the rules.

Mike Joseph always held that stations needed to do exactly what he outlined and began to fail when they deviated. During 1964, the dynamics and tension of strong minded people settled in and Keener became much more than another Mike Joseph success story.

BLITZ: Dave Prince maintained a slightly more rock and roll edge when he was still on WKMH. He also played rock and roll during his shift. That did not seem to present a problem in terms of continuity from a listener's perspective. Your thoughts?

SANDERS: I was not at the station during Dave Prince and have no knowledge or opinion on his music. I do recall that my WKMH coworkers had a high opinion of him.

BLITZ: You suggested that what Bob Green eventually termed "intelligent flexibility" after WKNR came into being was something that you strove for at WKMH. Was that a challenge for you to deliver as such with a more upbeat demeanor?

SANDERS: In retrospect, my challenges delivering what I considered an individually unique show under a more tightly formatted and energetic approach were based on lack of experience doing that delivery or working on a highly produced station. Later, when I enjoyed great success in Milwaukee doing higher energy contemporary music radio, I had grown up and I discovered that using Jack Lee as an air name helped me assume a different attitude.

BLITZ:  Describe the final moments of WKMH before the changeover.

SANDERS: Despite my less than ideal secret disdain for what was being done by the consultant, I was brought into the inner circle with Mike Joseph and Frank Maruca to execute the format change in my position as production director. I created the stages and production for a Halloween night Spooktacular, which included wolf howls, scary voices (my specialty), ghost stories and records with similar themes, to be played as if it was the new format.

I also produced the staging for a Mike Joseph special to give the impression that a totally unique Detroit version of hit favorites was being created by pitting records against each other like a boxing match as Battle of the Giants, with listener call ins to vote for the current champion which was played until unseated by a new and even more well liked hit. This continued for what I remember as a week until the new call letters and format debuted.

Maruca produced newspaper ads, events at high schools with Keener book covers and many other promotional tools unlike anything previously done in Detroit radio. I personally believe the kickoff and promotional support were at least as important in the rapid ratings explosion as format execution in the first ninety days.

I was assuming that once the new station launched, I would be out of work. So when I was contacted about the same time by a previous employer about a group PD position, I accepted a job starting in January of 1964. The day before the launch on October 31, 1963, which did not require jocks for several days and was executed by the producers, a memo went to the staff announcing a brand new radio station created from extensive research exactly for Detroit. We were told it would require a totally new air staff. Current personalities would be given the opportunity to use the production studios for one hour to create an audition tape using rough instructions for a hit music higher energy station using new slogans and call letters WKNR Keener 13, featuring the Key Men of Music.

Once the Joseph "research" had determined the top forty direction, Maruca knew Green was the man for production. I had never done high energy top forty, but had started as a radio actor/singer and had some prior management experience.

We were given a chance to cut an audition tape for the new format. Robin had not been previously running his own board and was not happy about having to audition as an established legend. I had him cut a few lines, intros and slogans and I made his audition tape for him the same night I made mine. No one but Robin and I knew that. But I was certain from things I had heard that he was going to stay no matter what.

I knew I had a new job coming up, but was cocky enough to want to prove that I could do any format. I decided to do the audition. Robin Seymour was not in the habit of running the control board and had been using his producer for that whether out on remote or in the station.

Just before I was to do my tape, Robin was scheduled to do his audition. Knowing the owner's appreciation of his legend and years with the company, I was sure he was safe no matter what came out on tape.

I had to show him how things worked in that studio and stayed around for a couple of rough passes on his part. He was not happy about having to audition. I agreed that it was an insult. I had him record the slogans and a few lines and told him to go home and let me put a tight show together as I did mine.

When the memo came out after a weekend, Robin and I were the only ones picked for Keener.

I was also a holdover, mainly because I was working with Mike Joseph producing the Spooktacular kickoff October 31 and the typical Mike Joseph Battle of the Giants record competition, which ran during the first days of WKNR.

Bob Green had been Production Director under Maruca for WKMH before my time. He had left to do his slight of hand in Miami.

My twelve to three time was unchanged. Robin was moved to nine to noon. Lou Sherman, Paul Cannon (who later came back to Keener) and Bill Phillips were gone. Bob Green came back as Production Director, because he was known to be a whiz at top forty. Maruca was named Promotion Director, a new position. Former WLS jock and PD Sam Hale came in as puppet PD to do what Mike Joseph directed.

After an initial confrontation during my first Keener air shift, with Mike Joseph over my sounding too much like the relaxed WKMH, I developed a high energy delivery modeled on what Gary Stevens was doing later in the day.

But I did not want to be cut because I could not do the format. So I did the production and got us into the first day of actual format and started doing my regular WKMH delivery with a little more energy. About twenty minutes into my show, Mike Joseph stormed into the control room and dripped cigar ashes on my turntable while telling me that I was dragging his station into the toilet and that he wanted me to do what we had heard on Gary Stevens’ audition.

After I resisted the impulse to walk out, I took a deep breath, summoned up my actor chops and, expecting to be fired on the spot, did an impression of a mindless screaming teen DJ. No one came in to escort me out.

At 3PM, Gary Stevens came in to take over. I looked at the floor and walked out to find Joseph with the dripping cigar grinning in the lobby. He said, "THAT is what I want."

Within a month, I had an offer to go into management in Milwaukee, effective January 1964. Having proved that I could do the format despite it being outside my comfort zone, I met with Maruca, now Promotions Director, Joseph and the new PD, Sam Hale formerly of WLS, Chicago and told them I would be leaving in a couple of months.

Once I got the word from management that I was working out, I did the format twelve to three for several weeks before advising them that I would be leaving in January of 1964 to go into management. This prompted Mike Joseph to decide to put Sam Hale on the air (he had been an off the air PD, like Maruca before him) and ask me to do midnight to six AM during the rest of December to work out my notice.

Hale and Joseph decided that effective in December, they would save some money by having Sam Hale do noon to three and have me do midnight to 6AM until my departure. Three weeks into this arrangement Maruca, Joseph and the GM took me to lunch and told me ratings were coming in for the first two months. WKNR had moved from twelfth to first, including the weeks I had done noon to three.

They told me that they did not like Sam Hale on air and wanted me to name a price to delay my Milwaukee move and immediately go back noon to three and work through the ratings period in the 1964 first quarter. I declined because I had given my word in Milwaukee to be there the first day of new ownership.

The irony of this is that after eighteen months of managing a struggling day timer, I accepted an on air shift at WOKY, Milwaukee and did the screaming DJ character as Jack Lee for five years, resulting in the market's last ever fifty shares of audience at night, mid-days and then as morning personality before going into management permanently.

After a few weeks doing midnight to 6:00AM, I was offered a "name your price" deal to go back to noon to three immediately and delay my new job move either permanently or for at least ninety days of ratings in 1964, based on the ratings they were seeing from the first weeks when I had done noon to three and the dramatic increase for the station from twelfth to first in the primitive ratings of the day, based on telephone recall. They were also not happy with Sam Hale on the air, soon to be replaced by the great Jerry Goodwin.

I declined the offer, which was flattering but conflicted with the promise I had made to my new employer to be onsite the first day of ownership of a station in Milwaukee.

By the way, the eventual use of Jerry Goodwin to replace Sam Hale was perfect. He was better in the format and shift than I ever could have been, and part of the golden years of Keener.

BLITZ: There are some elements in the basic template of your story that have played out in like circumstances elsewhere. As you might surmise, the pattern became a bit more common several years hence with the onset of the Drake format and the AM/FM wars.

It has been said that you can't see the forest for the trees, and being involved so intrinsically with the process, the insider perspective might differ from that shared by those who were on the listening end. You were on the air during the time that many of those so-called "screaming teenagers" were in school. As such, your demographic may well have been an older one. That was the case when Jerry Goodwin took noon to 3:00PM afterwards, and he was very much aware of it.

But what WKNR’s Key Men Of Music did was not perceived as a "screaming" approach. That "screaming" approach may have been in place elsewhere. But the difference between elsewhere and WKNR was that WKNR's banter was intelligent, as suggested by Bob Green's "intelligent flexibility" maxim. In other words, rather than "screaming", it would seem that a better descriptive term would be either "enthusiastic" or "passionate".

Theirs was not the time, temp and calls dead end of the Drake dynasty. The Keener Key Men had opinions, insights and observations, and the listening audience hung on their every word. Also, consider that WKNR's playlist was the epitome of diversity, which seemed to be sufficient to placate all concerned to at least a reasonable degree.

SANDERS: What Jerry Goodwin did later as part of "intelligent flexibility" was actually much closer to what I was doing that wasn't hot enough for Mike Joseph. I realize now, and came to understand as I voluntarily went back to a higher energy delivery on WOKY, that Mike was probably concerned about my not matching the rest of the staff and sounding too much like my previous WKMH show in the same time slot. He was probably having second thoughts when he burst in. It actually helped me to use a different air name, Jack Lee, in Milwaukee so I could think of it as acting.

Gary Stevens was pretty much my role model for the top forty character. Gary had the ability to open the mike every time and sound like he had just heard a great joke or story and was suppressing the urge to giggle. Gary brokered the sale of a group of stations I was managing in Milwaukee in 1981 and we always connect during Detroit radio reunions.

The variety of music was certainly important. I loved that part of the format and what Mike did with most of his stations in that area. As Bob Green will affirm, Mike was not especially skilled at communicating with or understanding talent. I crossed paths with him several times in later years and learned much from him.

We all learned from each other, and rubbed off intentionally and otherwise. The Wooly Burger gimmick he used in Detroit and later in New York came from our kidding around in the production room. I was a big fan of the country comedy team Homer and Jethro, and played one of their records for Gary one day. There was a line in the record about a sheep. "You little wooly booger, you." He had never heard the term "booger" used affectionately as is common in the south. We started calling each other "wooly booger" for a week or so. Pretty soon he was talking about "wooly burger" on the air as a nonsense term. It caught on.

BLITZ: WKNR introduced a weekly Keener Music Guide on 07 November 1963, with the Kingsmen's Louie, Louie at number one. The thirty-two singles and four albums on that list were indeed extremely diverse, covering a wide variety of genres and tastes, including the Dynamics, Neil Sedaka, the Singing Sun, Dion DiMucci, Wilbert Harrison, Bobby Rydell, Lenny Welch, Brooks O'Dell and others. In terms of the air staff, were all on board okay with the musical diversity?

SANDERS: I do not remember any opinions on the variety of music. I thought it made a lot of sense. There was a repetition of the top thirteen hits over and over each day, which I did not appreciate at the time and certain specific times to play the number one song, which probably coincided with the scribbled legal pads of research about shift change times and traffic flow.

BLITZ: Your WKNR shift was from 12:00PM to 3:00PM. You were on the air on Friday the 22nd of November 1963, during the time that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It has been said that you and newsman Bill Bonds were the only ones present at the station that afternoon. Describe what those initial moments were like at the station and for you, and what went through your mind when you received the news.

SANDERS:
When I was attending Albion College, I worked full time as PD and announcer on WALM. In 1958, I hired Bill Bonds for his first broadcast job.

In 1963, recently out of the army, I took a job at WPON and reconnected with Bill, who was doing news at WKMH. When an opening came up at WKMH he called me and suggested I get a tape to the station. That resulted in my joining WKMH in late February or March of 1963.

Bill often did news during my Keener show. When the Kennedy bulletin came in, he rushed into the booth and pointed to his mike to have it turned on. I knew how brilliant he was and trusted his judgment. So I dumped out of music and turned him on.

When the news hit me, I realized that most of the playlist like Rufus Thomas’ Walking the Dog, which I had been playing, were inappropriate. I scanned the carts and found The Singing Nun and played that while Bill and I discussed how big this was if the President was wounded or worse. We looked around for a management person to consult and discovered everyone was at a lunch meeting. I told Bill to run back to news wire machines which were ringing with more bulletins and get up to date and come back on the air with every new detail.

I ad libbed a repeat of his story and played the Singing Nun again. I realized I might be fired for deviating from what we already knew was a hot radio station. But I thought of myself as a broadcaster first and disc jockey second.

When Bill ran in with the next bulletin, he and I decided we would go all news. We had confidence in each other's ability to think on our feet and converse. So we discussed what we knew and every couple of minutes he explained that he would be checking the wires while I explained what we knew so far.

After about forty minutes of this, including Bill calling the death and explaining that only one of the two services, AP and UPI had confirmed, management came in and told us to continue doing the all news/talk even past the 3PM end of my shift. I think we stayed in that modified format until after 5PM, when Maruca located some funeral dirge music which played without commercials for a couple of days.

We learned afterwards that Bill scooped all radio and TV stations. Many told us over the years that WKNR was the way they heard the news. My finest hour in broadcasting.

BLITZ: Mort Crowley's brief run at WKNR came to an abrupt end not long into 1964. Did you or anyone else see any signs of what was about to happen? Did he share any of those concerns with any of his colleagues before he went public with them?

SANDERS: I had no idea that Mort Crowley would do what he did. I respected his talent and got a lot of advice about Milwaukee, where he had worked and found a wife earlier in his career. I did realize that he was impulsive and his comedy came off the top of his head with little inhibition.

BLITZ: Mort Crowley's "last straw" was the problem with the phone lines on the morning of his last day on the air. Did you have any such moment that in turn prompted you to also make the decision to leave?

SANDERS: I did not leave impulsively. I had settled into the format and was quite comfortable doing it by the time I left.

BLITZ:
You have subsequently commented that you have re-assessed your decision to leave WKNR, stating that perhaps it wasn't as easy to see the greatness that was to come at that early stage. If you had the opportunity to do it again, what would you have done differently?

SANDERS: The move to management led to a general manager position at a suburban day time station at age twenty-seven. I learned a lot about financial challenges and managing headstrong talent, like I had been!

I have often second guessed my decision to leave WKNR. I would have most likely stayed on the air longer and enjoyed being part of the best years of Keener.

On the other hand, I wound have missed the opportunity to do five more years of top forty and become a number one rated morning show host, PD of number one MOR station, still more my specialty than hit music, market manager for twelve years under four ownerships, eighteen years as consultant and radio association manager and six years as consultant on streaming and online audio. At Keener, I might have ended up as a bitter, on the beach former DJ bemoaning deregulation and wishing for the good old days like so many we encounter today.

My wife loved Keener and thinks leaving was a career mistake.

I hope this is helpful in your coverage of WKNR. I have grown to be proud of my tiny role and rich memories. The best part of Keener was the impact it had on people like you and so many other fans.

I want to tell you what a great job you did. I especially enjoyed the Sweeney interview. Thank you for the great tribute to what I now agree was a great radio station.