Thursday

WELCOME TO BLITZ MAGAZINE'S WEB SITE!

 



PARTY WITH THE PIXIES THREE: The beloved vocal trio, the Pixies Three recently released a highly acclaimed, all new album, Timeless. The group spoke recently with Blitz Magazine Editor / Publisher Michael McDowell on that landmark release, as well as the many highlights of their nearly six decade career, including their fruitful tenure with Mercury Records from 1963 to 1965. Click on "Pixies Three 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
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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 pionesers the Jelly Bean Bandits end their brief sabbatical with a timely remake of a Buffalo Springfield classic. Yellow Payges front man Daniel Hortter pays tribute to former band bassist Teddy Rooney, who succumbed to liver cancer on 02 July. We also salute one-time Suburban Lawns guitarist Richard Paul "Frankie Ennui" Whitney and rock and roll veteran Bobby Curtola, whose work for the Del-Fi and Tartan labels is legendary.
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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 Philip Springer 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!

PIXIES THREE INTERVIEW

PARTY PARTY PARTY: The legendary Hanover, Pennsylvania vocal trio, the Pixies Three have been the recipients of unprecedented acclaim in the wake of the release of their most recent album, Timeless. The group spoke recently with Blitz Magazine Editor / Publisher Michael McDowell about that landmark new release, as well as the many highlights of their storied six decade career. The group is pictured above in 2015 at the photo sessions for Timeless. Left to right: Debra Swisher Horn, Midge Bollinger Neel and Kaye McCool Krebs. (Click on photo to enlarge).

WELCOME TO THE PARTY:
A CAREER CELEBRATION
WITH THE PIXIES THREE
By Michael McDowell

Whenever a particular group or solo artist has been blessed with career longevity, rarely does their mission statement continue to develop without at least encountering challenges to varying degrees.

Even so, in terms of trials and tribulations, the veteran vocal trio, the Pixies Three has found themselves extraordinarily blessed in that such diversions have to date occurred at a relatively minimal rate. Although the group has embarked upon several protracted sabbaticals since their inception in Hanover, Pennsylvania in 1957, the Pixies Three continue to record and perform live prolifically, with their original line up intact.

The group’s founders, Kaye McCool Krebs, Midge Bollinger Neel and Debra Swisher Horn were drawn together that year by a mutual love of music and live performance. The group, then in their pre-teens, began to stage informal presentations in their neighborhood. For inspiration, they drew from the catalogues of such acclaimed influences as the Everly Brothers, the Chordettes and the McGuire Sisters.

Offers for live appearances soon followed, and the Pixies (as they were then known) spent the next several years developing their stage persona and repertoire. All were gifted instrumentalists as well, and often accompanied themselves on ukuleles and/or keyboards when circumstances permitted.

The Pixies eventually developed a working relationship with the rock and roll duet, the Two Teens. That association in turn led to appearances on CBS’ Amateur Hour, hosted by William Edward “Ted Mack” Maguiness. The Two Teens’ Joe Seddon (who went on to acclaim as a member of the Sterling Brothers, Feather Blue and Plymouth Rock) subsequently advised the Pixies about an ongoing talent night taking place each Thursday at the Venus Club in Philadelphia.

On the night of the Pixies Three’s debut at the Venus Club, veteran producers John Madara and David White were in the audience. Each had earned tremendous critical acclaim for their involvement with vocal harmony legends Danny and the Juniors; White as a founding member (alongside the still very much active Frank Maffei and Joe “Joe Terry” Terranova, as well as the group’s late front man, Danny Rapp) and Madara as co-author of the group’s late 1957 monster classic signature track for Singular Records, At The Hop, and as producer for their 1958 ABC Paramount label anthem, Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay. Madara and White went on to co-author Ernest “Chubby Checker” Evans’ superb The Fly single for Parkway in early 1961.

At the time of the Pixies’ appearance at the Venus Club, Madara and White were employed as a production team by the Chicago, Illinois-based Mercury Records. Both were impressed with what they saw, and expressed their interest to the Pixies that evening.

However, follow up correspondence from the vaunted producers was not immediately forthcoming. The Pixies subsequently learned that Madara and White had gone on to work with the Sherrys, whose August 1962 Pop Pop Pop-Eye single for the Guyden label was very much in the same vein as the sound that the Pixies were perfecting in their own live repertoire.

After much trepidation, and at the behest of Debra Swisher’s mother (and group manager), Dotty Swisher, the Pixies traveled unannounced to the Philadelphia branch of Mercury Records to again audition for Madara and White. Despite the group’s initial reservations with respect to such methodology, this time their efforts were successful. Madara and White extended a contract offer on the spot, concurrently suggesting a name change to the Pixies Three, as so to avoid any possible conflict with the Pixies who had released the Cry Like A Baby single for Don-Dee Records in November 1962.

By the spring of 1963, the Pixies Three found themselves making the two and a half hour commute between Hanover and Philadelphia on a regular basis, for the purpose of rehearsing in anticipation of their debut recording session. By that time, the group had set aside their self-accompaniment inclinations, with future Gamble Records co-founder Leon Huff instead providing back up for them in rehearsal on keyboards.

Meanwhile, Madara and White busied themselves with assembling a new repertoire for the group, combining strong original compositions with pertinent cover material. The Pixies Three eventually made their Mercury debut with the highly promising and upbeat Madara-White composition, Birthday Party, coupled with Kaye McCool’s high drama ballad, Our Love on the flip side. The single was recorded at the famed Reco-Art Studio (later Sigma Studios), where such greats as Bobby Rydell at neighboring Cameo-Parkway had cut some of their most acclaimed material.

In light of the fact that Mercury rarely invested time and effort into promoting newly signed and unproven artists, the initial reaction to Birthday Party was modest. As such, the group and Dotty Swisher took matters into their own hands, making frequent live appearances at key radio stations in Washington D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Their strategy reaped dividends in a variety of ways. By the time they were ready to record their follow up single, the Pixies Three had developed a working relationship with Madara and White that was beneficial in terms of mission statement, production and execution. The resultant Cold, Cold Winter and its larger than life flip side, 442 Glenwood Avenue exceeded expectations on all counts.

With the vocally sublime and rich in high drama Cold, Cold Winter as the group’s immediate focus, the single began to gain unprecedented momentum that was abruptly derailed by horrific and unforeseeable circumstances. While en route to a television appearance to promote the single on the afternoon of Friday the twenty-second of November 1963, the group was devastated to learn that American President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

With America at large scrambling to make sense of the tragedy and subsequently seeking diversions (musical and otherwise) that would hopefully bring the much needed healing, the Pixies Three found themselves as an integral part of the restoration process when the single’s flip side, 442 Glenwood Avenue was rightfully recognized as a sterling example of the relentless optimism that was much needed at the time.

The legendary WKNR Keener 13 radio in Dearborn, Michigan (which had just signed on the air in the wake of the demise of one-time Detroit Tigers flagship station WKMH on the thirty-first of October that year) was among the first to respond accordingly. The station’s afternoon announcer, James “Jim Sanders” Beasley and newscaster Bill Bonds were on the air at the time of the Kennedy tragedy, and morning drive legend Frank “Swingin’ ” Sweeney (who also served as Music Director at the station) were quick to recognize the healing effect of such efforts. The station added 442 Glenwood Avenue the following week, and by early 1964, it was in the top three on the weekly WKNR music guide. Other radio outlets around the nation followed suit, and the Pixies Three found themselves with both a signature track and an anthem to their credit.

Buoyed by this success, Madara and White planned for the Pixies Three to return to the studio in early 1964 to begin work on their debut album. However, the group’s momentum was once again sidetracked before January’s end with the sudden departure of co-founder Midge Bollinger.

Nonetheless, the group successfully recruited Bonnie Long, who was a classmate of Debby Swisher. With Long assuming Swisher’s high harmony parts and Swisher in turn taking over Bollinger’s role as lead vocalist, the group persevered and soon began work at Mira Sound in New York City on what would become the acclaimed Party With The Pixies Three album. In preparation, the group first cut a third single, re-inventing the Crows’ landmark 1954 Rama label Gee single (which had also been covered sublimely in the interim by Jan and Dean on Dore Records) with the endearing original ballad, After The Party on the flip side.

With such greats as Trade Martin, Artie Kaplan (whose curriculum vitae as a saxophonist includes such beloved landmarks as Connie Francis’ My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own, Neil Sedaka’s Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen and Little Eva Boyd’s The Loco-Motion), Vincent Bell and the aforementioned Leon Huff providing the instrumental accompaniment, the sessions for Party With The Pixies Three progressed superbly. Combining the aforementioned Birthday Party, After The Party, Gee and 442 Glenwood Avenue with such like minded fare as Brand New Boy, That’s Why I Love My Guy, Party Party Party and a sublime cover of the Crests’ Sixteen Candles, Party With The Pixies Three has been rightfully hailed by many as one of the genre’s definitive masterpieces. The album and the group’s single of Gee were released concurrently in March 1964.

With musical diversity at an all time high, the Pixies Three (along with Madara and White) opted to make their contribution in that respect during the summer of 1964 with their wonderfully unique single, The Hootch. But for whatever reason, be it the various potential interpretations of the song’s title or misgivings on the part of the group’s faithful (coupled with the fact that by mid-year the recording industry was blessed with an abundance of worthwhile new releases by everyone from Rick Nelson, Chuck Berry and Eddie Holland to the Chartbusters, Tony Clarke and Rita Pavone), initial reaction was not as strong as had been anticipated. Once again, WKNR Keener 13 led the way by taking a chance on the flip side, the true to form and irresistible Summertime U.S.A. Directly inspired by Jan and Dean’s recent Liberty label smash, The New Girl In School, Summertime U.S.A. (which WKNR added as the Key Song Of The Week on 04 June 1964) gave the Pixies Three what for the time being would be their final moment in the spotlight in terms of single releases.

Although each was excellent in its own right, the successive Mercury releases Orphan Boy and Your Way did not find the sizeable audience that the group’s earlier singles had enjoyed. As such, the Pixies Three inevitably parted ways with Mercury.

In turn, Madara and White formed a new band, the Spokesmen, with Ray Gilmore as the third member. Their biggest moment in the spotlight came with their 1965 Decca label single, The Dawn Of Correction, which took Barry McGuire’s Dunhill label anthem, Eve Of Destruction to task. The Spokesmen went on to sign with Cameo-Parkway’s subsidiary Winchester label, where they became an early part of the label’s highly acclaimed stable of first generation garage rock visionaries, alongside the Yellow Payges (on Showplace), the New Colony Six (on Sentar), Terry Knight and the Pack (on Lucky Eleven) and the Rationals, Bob Seger and the Last Heard and the Ohio Express (all on Cameo).

Meanwhile, the Pixies Three also briefly joined forces with Cameo-Parkway, which in 1965 was in the process of redefining its own mission statement. The label had retained mainstays Dee Dee Sharp and Chubby Checker from their prime of just a few years earlier, and was in the process that year of signing a variety of acclaimed artists, including Sounds Orchestral, Eddie Holman, Bobby Sherman, the Ivy League and Lonnie Younglblood. The group cut a version of Make Me Your Baby for the label in the autumn of 1965, only to once again have their hopes dashed when Barbara Lewis released her version for Atlantic Records in late September of that year.

Temporarily disillusioned by those recent developments, the Pixies Three decided at that point to embark upon a protracted sabbatical. Debra Swisher opted to persevere as a solo artist, signing with the legendary Bert Berns’ Boom label and eventually succeeding Peggy Santiglia in the lead vocalist role for the Angels during their affiliation with RCA Victor. Bonnie Long opted for a career in the corporate world, while Kaye McCool relocated to Ann Arbor to pursue a degree at the University Of Michigan.

But ultimately, neither academia nor the corporate world were in the Pixies Three’s long range plans. In 1991, Bonnie Long (who was still residing in Hanover) was a member of the reunion committee of her 1966 high school graduating class. The committee had asked her to reunite the group for the class’ twenty-fifth reunion. After conducting a brief search, Debra Swisher Horn was found to still be active in music in Oklahoma, while Kaye McCool Krebs had been pursuing a career in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Despite their best efforts, the group was nonetheless unable to locate Midge Bollinger Neel at that time. So the interim line up of Horn, Krebs and Long opted to once again press ahead as the Pixies Three. Long time Blitz Magazine contributor Jerry Schollenberger covered the group’s activities regularly throughout that period.

Meanwhile, the demand for live appearances poured in, and the group began to tour and record prolifically. Neel approached them after one such performance in 1997, and ultimately returned to the group in 2000 when Horn opted for retirement. The Krebs, Neel and Long version of the Pixies Three persevered diligently until 2010.

In the ensuing years, the various members of the group began to realize that they remained united in camaraderie as musicians, and that retirement simply was not an option. By 2013, the original line up of Krebs, Horn and Neel had regrouped, with an all new album project in the works.

That album, Timeless marked the Pixies Three’s debut as producers and (in tandem with long time collaborator Earl Kiosterud), arrangers and musicians. Recorded over a period of several months in their home studios, Timeless features the richly developed vocal blend of the group trying their hand at a healthy cross section of material, from the Ad Libs’ The Boy From New York City and the DeCastro Sisters’ Teach Me Tonight to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards/Judy Collins interpretations of the beloved Gospel staple, Amazing Grace and Champaign’s utterly sublime high drama masterpiece, How ’Bout Us. The album received a rave review in Blitz Magazine, which prompted an interview with Kaye Krebs about the project.

However, that interview in turn sparked an avalanche of interest in the reunited group. Timeless began to sell in brisk numbers, leading to a demand for a more in depth piece that would reflect their rich legacy in greater detail.

The resultant exchange between Blitz Magazine’s Editor / Publisher Michael McDowell and the Pixies Three’s co-founders, Kaye McCool Krebs, Debra Swisher Horn and Midge Bollinger Neel transpired during the summer of 2016. Therein, the group discussed the highlights of their formidable and inspirational six decade legacy, which indeed remains Timeless.

BLITZ: The group began singing informally as the Pixies in 1957. By 1960, the group was competing on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. During one such televised competition, the Pixies covered Annette Funicello's Tall Paul. The group also accompanied itself during that performance on ukuleles. Given that  the group (and Kaye in particular) composed original material, was original material incorporated into the group's repertoire at that time? And was any consideration ever given to continuing with instrumental self-accompaniment?

HORN: There was never consideration to be a self-contained instrumental/vocal group.  As the times dictated, the total intention was to be a successful, record selling, high quality singing girl group, with no vulgarity in any way. Our manager, Dotty Swisher (Mom) insisted on Kaye's original on the B side. We were thrilled that the label allowed it.

KREBS: Yes, we did sing the songs I wrote at some of our shows; usually only one original on a show. During the earliest shows, we each played ukes and were accompanied by a pianist.  We weren’t always able to get a pianist, and sometimes we weren’t happy with the one we got. So I became the permanent pianist, while Deb and Midge played ukes. 

As I recall, at one time Midge played a baritone uke. We continued this line up until the Mercury days when “two ukes and a piano” were replaced by a band.

NEEL: 1950s and '60s girl groups were not known for being self-contained groups. Girl bands became popular later on.  However, had we stayed together, I believe we eventually would have evolved into a singing/performing trio playing instruments. 

In the early days, Kaye accompanied us on the piano, while Deb and I played ukuleles.  We all took piano lessons; Kaye was the best. I played the violin. When music is your love and it becomes your life, instruments are easy to pick-up and play.

BLITZ: The Pixies Three recorded several demos in 1961, including Sincerely, Graduation Time, I Don't Care, Tell Me and Kaye's Our Love. Why were they not released at that time? Have the master tapes of those sessions survived?

HORN: No, we do not have the masters.

KREBS: We paid for this session at Reco-Art in Philadelphia. The purpose was to make demos that we could send to record companies, hoping to get a deal. So the final product was acetate demos, not for release to the public. 

I doubt they even saved the master. We brought along two boyfriends who played bass and rhythm guitars. Deb and Midge played the ukes and I played the piano.

BLITZ: By 1963, the Pixies Three had signed with Mercury Records. The group had been working with producers John Madara and David White, who were immensely respected for their work with Danny and the Juniors. Within the next two years, Madara and White would return to the studio as co-founders of the group the Spokesmen.

Given their impressive track record as composers, musicians and producers, and in light of the Spokesmen's emphasis on social commentary in their own material, to what degree did their input impact the focus, direction and mission statement of the Pixies Three?

HORN: Our mission statement was one of love, of music and each other. In no way did we have a commentary on the times or current events of the day.  That was a path that Madara and White took on their own with their group. The Dawn Of Correction was in no way ours or did they push us to participate. They are fine gentlemen. I agree.

BLITZ: The Pixies Three's 1963 debut Mercury single, Birthday Party featured Kaye's ballad Our Love on the B-side. Did Mercury and/or Madara and White encourage the group to continue in that direction?

HORN: No, they didn't encourage original material by us. They were mostly in control, guiding us to the material they thought would help us survive in the highly competitive girl group frenzy. This was the case for most groups of the times. Just to snag a major record deal was a big accomplishment.

KREBS: I never knew why they put Our Love on the flip side. Maybe they thought it wasn’t strong enough to compete with Birthday Party, fearing split play, or didn’t want to waste any of their songs on a B-side.

BLITZ: The Pixies Three's late 1963 follow up single, 442 Glenwood Avenue / Cold, Cold Winter has long been acclaimed as one of the vocal group genre's definitive masterpieces. Given that both sides of the single were very strong, was the intention to present it as a double A-side?

HORN: No, as far as I knew, it was not intended to be a two-sided hit.  This would only slate both sides in competition with each other, on the charts, popularity, etcetera.  Being a relatively newly signed group with Mercury, we were merely trying to find our own way and prove to be a productive group.

Being on a major label was good. But you have to realize so much money continued to be poured into the major stars already proven to Mercury on the bottom line.  After all, this is big business. If an act doesn't produce good results, that act is released.  Many were and we were one of them, as the Beatles came to town in 1964.

KREBS: As Deb said, they didn’t want a two-sided hit.  I don’t think they knew both sides were good. Cold, Cold Winter was released as the A-side in late November and charted through the holidays. In January, DJs started playing 442 Glenwood Avenue. Both were on Billboard’s Top One Hundred at the same time.

442 Glenwood Avenue / Cold, Cold Winter actually sold more records than Birthday Party, but didn’t chart as high since they didn’t count both sides. One side was competing with the other! They changed that in the '70s, so both sides’ sales count.  If they had done that then, 442 Glenwood Avenue would have hit the Top Ten nationally.

BLITZ: 442 Glenwood Avenue / Cold, Cold Winter also had the dubious distinction of being released in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The relentless optimism of 442 Glenwood Avenue has often been credited as having provided a much needed catalyst towards healing in the aftermath of that tragedy. To what degree did that paradox impact the group in its endeavors to persevere without compromise to its own mission statement?

HORN: Again, our group never had a political statement as you suggested, due to our young ages. We were high school girls, singing high school songs about dance parties, teenage love gained and lost.

We were in the car on the way to The Buddy Deane Show in Baltimore, when we noticed people stopping their cars and weeping. We were singing in the car and did not have the radio on. We turned it on and realized that Kennedy was shot and like all Americans, could not believe it.

Mom stopped the car and called the show. Everything was canceled. We turned around, came home and mourned with the world the loss of our beloved President.

KREBS: We had that young girl sound and were singing light, happy songs. So it seemed likely that people would prefer to listen to us as opposed to those heavy message songs.

BLITZ: Despite the obvious momentum generated by the first two Mercury singles, Midge nonetheless opted to take a sabbatical from the group in nearly 1964, with Bonnie Walker succeeding you in the line up. Why so?

NEEL: I have wrestled with this all of my life. I think that in the best interest of the group, some things are better left unsaid.

Since Deb, Kaye and I have reunited, we often wonder and talk about what our lives would have been like had we collaboratively embarked on our dreams and continued on with our early success. We were all so young and didn't realize what we had going for us. Looking back and realizing just how close we were to really making it big, going all the way, it would have been awesome to see how the lives of we three young women so gifted in our own ways would have turned out.

As sisters, we still laugh and cry whenever we touch on the past.  The good news is that we are together and still making music, the gift of our lives.

BLITZ: With the revised line up of Debby as lead vocalist, along with Kaye and Bonnie, the Pixies Three returned to the studio in early 1964 to record what is hailed as both a concept album and a milestone within the genre with the Party With The Pixies Three album. It has been said that the album exudes a unique atmosphere that prompts the listener to heed the group's beckoning to the party therein as an irresistible option of sorts, again as a byproduct of what was rapidly becoming the group's trademark relentless optimism. Was that intentional?

HORN: I think it was intentional as far as relentless optimism. We rehearsed the album at home in Hanover and had it mostly down, harmony wise.

I have to smile when artists have the luxury of recording an album for years, sometimes. We did this so fast and spent long, long hours in the studio the days we were in New York.

Kaye can tell you to our amazement who landed in New York when we were recording (hint hint, from England). I do remember recording late at night. The studio was so cold, I don't know if they turned the heat off or what, but I was recording the lead to Sixteen Candles.  It had to be in February, because I remember thinking that I too will be sixteen in a few weeks, on the twenty-sixth of February.

KREBS: Relentless optimism was us, but the Beatles had landed.  The success formula was changing. We were adding parodies of their songs, “I Wanna Hold Their Hands” in the initial song, Welcome To The Party.

Our previous single, Gee got rave reviews but couldn’t break the top forty, a domain held by the British Invasion. Music had changed overnight and we, as well as all the other American artists, were trying to figure out how to compete.
BLITZ: Our Love and Cold, Cold Winter were not included in the album, presumably because neither track features a party atmosphere of sorts. However, both Birthday Party and 442 Glenwood Avenue were included in the album, albeit only in monaural, even in the stereo pressings. Do stereo masters of those first two singles exist?

HORN: Answers to all questions concerning us having masters in our possession? None!  Wish we did.

KREBS: Mercury Japan took the original masters and digitally reworked those songs, re-releasing Party With the Pixies Three on CD in stereo.  That release wasn’t until 2006 though.

BLITZ: At certain points in the track Brand New Boy on the album, it sounds as if the group is singing "Randy Boy" instead of Brand New Boy. Was there indeed a Randy that inspired such a subtle variation?

HORN: Hey, that is the first time I have heard this! But that's funny. It could sound like Randy boy. The song tempo was so fast, that we had to spit Brand New Boy out really fast to keep up with the chords and rhythm.

I am surprised that Madara and White didn't hear what you hear, but they didn't. Maybe we should have put more of an accent on the word New. But we didn't, and sadly there was no Randy boy in sight!

BLITZ: On tracks like the cover of Claudine Clark's Party Lights and the cover of the Crows' Gee, it becomes increasingly apparent that the group's trademark tight vocal harmonies were getting even tighter exponentially, despite the fact that all three of you at that time were either in the low soprano or high alto range. Was it difficult as such to work out any such subtle nuances in the arrangements?

HORN: Concerning ranges of our voices and harmonies, it was intentional for our producers to record all the cuts on the album in the highest possible ranges. The thinking was that if we had to push at the top of our ranges, there would be more excitement in the record with a party atmosphere. Then they added all the live sounding cheers, party noise, etcetera to add even more.

NEEL: If you think it was hard then, you have no idea how creative we have to be to arrange harmonies on our current album since we're all altos.  I have the lowest voice, but end up singing the high part on Deb's lead vocals.

Luckily, harmony comes easily for all three of us. We just love singing as one, which is what Pixie sisters often do. It's so natural.

BLITZ: The mid-1964 Summertime U.S.A. single was obviously inspired by Jan and Dean's The New Girl In School. Given that Jan and Dean were also known for rich and lavishly arranged vocal harmonies in their own releases, to what degree did their work impact your own vision? Did you ever get any comments from them about that single?

HORN: Another first, Michael! I have never heard the inspiration of the Jan and Dean record and ours.

KREBS: I haven’t either. But when you go back and listen to Jan and Dean, the similarity is astonishing!

BLITZ: The group pressed ahead with two additional singles for Mercury, Orphan Boy and Your Way. The latter track has in recent years been interpreted in some circles as a reflection of the group's deference to Madara and White's vision at the expense of its own. Is such an assessment accurate, or somewhat presumptuous?

HORN: Orphan Boy was fashioned after a Four Seasons type song.  I really liked that song.  And I loved Your Way, too. That song was supposed to be a Supremes type song, real breathy and all.

KREBS: I think that Madara and White were trying everything they could to get us a hit.  After creating a fairly original sound, The Hootch, which flopped, they went for older, tried and true sounds, as Deb said.

BLITZ: Before ending its association with Mercury, the Pixies Three cut a version of Make Me Your Baby, which ultimately did very well in late 1965 for Barbara Lewis on Atlantic. Did the masters of the Pixies Three's version survive?

KREBS: Actually, Make Me Your Baby was made with Cameo Parkway, after Mercury dropped our contract.  They gave us the song on tape, which we worked up, then went to Sigma Studios in Philly to record our own rendition with a small band.

If that turned out to be good, they would bring in more musicians for a big session. Everyone loved it.

We went home over the week-end with a contract to have signed by our guardians. However, Monday morning Barbara Lewis released her version.

BLITZ: Sadly, the Pixies Three opted to embark upon a protracted sabbatical by the end of 1965. However, Debby immediately persevered as a solo artist, signing with the late, great Bert Berns' Boom label and covering You're So Good To Me from the Beach Boys' Summer Days (And Summer Nights) album.

Given Berns' reputation as one of the most respected, key figures in all of rock and roll, along with his well deserved reputation as a relentless perfectionist, did you have any reservations about entering into a working relationship with him?

And to what degree (if any) did you have an opportunity to work with some of the other artists on Boom, such as the Sheep (aka the Strangeloves), Cab Calloway and Dean Parrish?

HORN: Yes, as you said, the Pixies Three took a sabbatical in 1965.  My mother Dorothy Swisher, my manager too, representing me, landed a record deal with the Boom label as a solo artist, using my legal name, Debra Swisher. This started my relationship with famous Feldman, Goldstein, and Gottehrer writing and production team.

This was a good fit for me.  It was their decision to release the cover of a Beach Boys album cut, You're So Good To Me, with the intention to make it a world- wide hit by me!  The result of the 45 was known in the industry as a bomb, instead, of a hit.

By the way I did not have a face to face with the great Bert Berns that I recall.
 .
BLITZ: You went from that brief association with Bert Berns and Boom Records into the coveted position of lead vocalist for the Angels. The group around that time had signed with RCA Victor, where it released a number of catalog highlights. What were the high points of that experience for you?

HORN: The Boom experience was a lucky one for me, as the B side of the 45 is Thank You And Goodnight. It was written by Feldman, Goldstein, Gottehrer, and a hit by the Angels. It sealed the deal with my joining the Angels as lead singer, after auditioning.

I might add that producers and writers hope for a smash hit for their artist's A-side, but it was common for them to pen the B-side. If the song hits, they have writers royalties, plus producer royalties, such as the B-side of You're So Good To Me.

The two year collaboration with the Angels changed my life forever. That experience was the force I needed to remain in the singing and music business my entire career.  The maturity they had in experience, contacts, stage presence, even applying stage makeup was eye opening.

I lived with Jiggs at first. Barbara was already married and I was eighteen. I now lived in New York City on my own with a successful girl group, who in four weeks of joining had to do the following: learn entire night club act, complete with our arranger, Lee Holdridge, our choreographer, Donna McKechnie, manager, Al Schwartz; plus photo shoots, costume fittings, studio rehearsal from eight to ten hours per day.

Along with all of this, we signed with another major label: RCA Records!  We were again looking to get to the top of the charts.  It was an extremely rewarding and had me maturing really quickly to keep up. Jilly (Rizzo), Frank Sinatra's pal, restaurant owner was a pal of our manager Al. We got to sing at Jilly's one night and landed a gig at the Fountain Blue in Miami, when Frank was in the big room.  He and Mia (Farrow) came to see us.

I'll just name drop other exciting venues and shows that stick out in my mind: Copacabana, New York City, did a stint in Germany and France with Bob Crosby and the Bop Cats performing for the troops, Bermuda, The Dean Martin Show, Dick Clark, co-hosted The Mike Douglas Show, all the rock and roll shows in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. These shows were our bread and butter, the one nighters.

BLITZ: The Pixies Three did not return to active status until 1991, at which time Bonnie was encouraged to reunite the group in tandem with her twenty-five year high school reunion. Thankfully, that reunion turned out to be more than a one-off project, with the group opting to persevere. It was said at the time that Midge's whereabouts were unknown. Had you been in touch with the group at that time, would you have joined in the reunion?

NEEL: Oh yes, I absolutely would have, had I been given the opportunity at the time when Bonnie wanted to reunite.  Sadly I never received the invitation.

In 1991, I was living in Annapolis, Maryland, not too far from our hometown Hanover, Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Saint Louis, Missouri.

Over the years, my fiancé helped me realize the importance of seeing the Pixies Three, since I never had. So we traveled back east to Maryland, where they were performing at Ocean City's Sun Fest. And that event turned my life around.

As life would have it, after Deb left the group in 2000, I toured with Bonnie and Kaye for ten years. This musical journey has surely proven that all good things come to those who wait. For in 2013, the original Pixies Three emerged. It was the best gift I ever received, to finally be able to perform with my "bestest" friends from so long ago. You can only imagine the jubilation after all those years of separation!  Patience is a virtue.

BLITZ: Most encouragingly, in addition to a fairly demanding live performance schedule, the Pixies Three thankfully opted to return to the studio. Subsequent releases included a healthy variety of material, including such diverse fare as the Judds' Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout The Good Old Days).

Given that country music at the time of the release of the original version was about to embark on its last collective gasp of consequence with the so-called New Traditionalist movement, and in view of the fact that the group's trademark tight vocal harmonies lent itself naturally to the genre, did the Pixies Three ever take into consideration the idea of "going country"?

KREBS: Only once. In the 1990s, Debby was living in Oklahoma City and country music was raging. We toyed with the idea of The Pixies Go Country, a title suggested by Debby’s husband, Bobby John. But we never did, although we always sang a few country songs in our live shows.

BLITZ: Curiously, despite ongoing acclaim, adoration and consistent demand for live performances, the Pixies Three once again decided to embark upon another sabbatical in 2010. Why so?

KREBS: Midge moved to Denver, Colorado and it was almost impossible to rehearse with us being so far apart.  I think we thought it was time to retire.

BLITZ: Happily, the original line up of Kaye, Debby and Midge opted to return to active status in 2014 with the recording of your most recent album, Timeless. What prompted the current reunion?

KREBS: Our home town, Hanover was celebrating the 250th anniversary of its founding in 2013, and wanted us to reunite to celebrate the event.  They invited all four of us, but Bonnie graciously demurred so that the original members could celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the release of our first record, Birthday Party. We had such a wonderful time that we didn’t want it to end.

I have a recording studio in my home and suggested we make a new album in 2014.  Everyone was for it. It took a year to make it.

BLITZ: Timeless marked a radical departure for the group in several ways. While the material therein is comprised of cover versions, the album finds the group more hands on in the studio, taking on production and arrangement responsibilities in tandem with Earl Kiosterud.  Presumably many of the backing tracks were a combination of Earl's multi-instrumental capabilities and judicious use of Pro Tools.

KREBS: Earl and I have been making music together since 1999. We started with Pro Audio and moved on to Sonar and a combination of VSTs (virtual synths) and sounds from our Roland JV1080.

We each have studios in our home; almost identical since we work together and move files from one studio to the other. We have made everything from jingles to background music for DVDs and the internet. Typically we work on other artists’ CDs, adding and/or enhancing instruments or post production.

We have released two all-instrumental Christmas CDs. This is the first album we have produced from beginning to end: creating all the music, recording the vocals and finishing through post production and mastering.

BLITZ: Each of you had a hand in the selection of material. While some observers may contend that the fifteen selections therein are readily familiar in their original renditions, you nonetheless brought to the table highly distinctive interpretations of each, and in a couple of instances superseded the original versions. Aside from mutual agreement and being repertoire friendly, were there any other factors extant in terms of the selection of material?

KREBS: Since we had not song together for fifty years, we just wanted this to be a good experience for everyone. Therefore, if someone wanted to sing a song, there was no discussion, we all agreed to do it.

I don’t sing lead on any of the songs, but I chose several of the album’s selections.  I picked Champaign's How 'Bout Us and the Ad Libs' The Boy From New York City for Debby, and Abba's Dancing Queen and the Fifth Dimension's Wedding Bell Blues for Midge. They both liked my selections, so there was no problem.

Earl wanted to do a unique harmony for the DeCastro Sisters' Teach Me Tonight. So this became his song; scoring not only the instrumentalization, but also the harmony parts. All in all, we all worked well together and had a lot of fun making the album.

BLITZ: While each song brings its own tale of revisionism via interpretation to the table, several of the cuts stand out from the others. It is interesting that you opted for the 1968 Joe Cocker arrangement of With A Little Help From My Friends, complete with name checks of one another that underscores group solidarity.

And while the December 1964 original rendition of The Boy From New York City by the Ad Libs presents its own series of challenges in interpretation because of the subtle key changes and vacillation between major and minor harmonies in the original, the Pixies Three nonetheless nailed it.

The Sam Cooke/Lou Rawls duet, Bring It On Home To Me succeeds under similar circumstances. Did these present any interpretive challenges for you?

KREBS: Actually, Debby wanted to do the Joe Cocker version of With A Little Help From My Friends. So we scored a musical arrangement similar to that.

The Boy From New York City is one of my personal favorites.  I love the background work and the good, up-tempo sound with lots of harmony.

We decided to do Bring It On Home To Me with a Gospel influence. You may notice that we have started simple with a piano and graduated to two organs (including a B3) to rock that house in the same way that you might hear this song in a Gospel church setting. We didn’t have a model for that other than what was in Earl and my heads.

BLITZ: Ironically, two of the tracks that would seem least likely to resonate with your long term audience are among the highlights of Timeless, including Stevie Nicks' Landslide and the Water Brothers Band's 1975 single, How 'Bout Us, which was of course redone in 1981 by Champaign. In particular, the latter track is absolutely astounding, and an instant highlight of the Pixies Three's overall repertoire. Discuss any moments of inspiration that may have occurred during the recording process of these two tracks.

KREBS: Midge picked Landslide. I tried doing the Stevie Nicks version, but thought an acoustic version would be much better, since we didn’t have a sound like that on the album.  It was a bit risky, but I think we pulled it off, or I hope we did!

As I mentioned previously, I picked How 'Bout Us for Debby because I knew she would bring a magnificent performance to that song, and I was right. She blew it away!

BLITZ: One of the many attributes of Timeless and the material therein is that the group has inevitably and most graciously transitioned from the original low soprano/high alto range to a blend that takes in an even greater range, from high tenor to baritone. To be certain, the group's current vocal range lends itself well to the material in the album. Was that a factor in selection?

KREBS: I don’t think we’re unusual. We are now singing much lower; probably half an octave lower than when we were teenagers.

But that very fact allows us to give a credible rendition to songs with more meat than the songs of our youth. And we have enjoyed the challenge of performing more complex material and a larger variety of styles.

BLITZ: Timeless closes with an absolutely stunning arrangement of the Gospel classic, Amazing Grace that sublimely highlights the intentions of composer John Newton. There are even brief references in your interpretation to the earlier landmark renditions by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and Judy Collins. Ultimately, the song provides what in Christian vernacular is known as a powerful witness. What was the inspiration behind its inclusion in the project?

KREBS: I suggested Amazing Grace because I had an idea for the arrangement, with bagpipes starting and then a full orchestra carrying the theme through to the end and the bagpipes taking us out.

We used to sing Amazing Grace when we were kids. We looked for bathrooms when we were performing to warm up with acapella before a show. Amazing Grace was usually the song.

As we got older, we still sang it; sometimes not so successfully. I remember we sang it for Debby’s aunt, who was dying. We all started crying, while we were singing it. Memories of this song go back fifty years. We couldn’t do an album without recording it.

BLITZ: Since its late 2015 release, Timeless has been the recipient of numerous glowing accolades, not the least of which has been those in Blitz Magazine. Given the obvious ongoing adoration and support afforded the group, what plans are in the works for subsequent recordings and live performances?

KREBS: We are so surprised and delighted at the reviews we have received for this album. Deb is 67, and Midge and I are 69. We never thought we would make it work! Sometimes you plan an album very carefully, with a concept and every little detail.

We did none of that. We just decided to make music of songs we loved. Songs not just from the 1950s and 1960s as we had done before, but music from our lives that we remember and love.

We decided in 2014 to do it. Who cared if we made any money? We didn’t worry if it was appropriate or fit our audience. We just did it. I realize now that when you work from the heart, doing something you love, others will probably like it too.

HORN: This has been a huge undertaking for you and us. Thank you for the insightful questions that have never been asked. We feel honored to be featured in such a thorough way. Also to see a huge surge in sales for our new album, Timeless!

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.