Olivia Newton-John, left, invited record guru Morris Diamond and his lady
Alice Harnell to one of her performances a few months ago in Las Vegas.
By Claude Hall
and Rollye James
Claude: I’m not quite sure, but I think I owe my job with Billboard magazine to Elvis Presley.
However, it could have been Sam Phillips, the Memphis record producer who “discovered”
Elvis and Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. During the job interview in
Manhattan, Billboard’s music editor Paul Ackerman seemed impressed that I was familiar
with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. They were both literally unknown in the northeast. In
fact, literally unknown outside of the so-called Bible-area and either side of the Mississippi
River extending as a general rule all of the way up to the doorstep of Bill Randle, a disc jockey
who then lived and worked in Cleveland (and flew into Manhattan daily for an hour on WCBS
in New York City). Yes, historians give credit to Alan Freed for coining the term rock’n’roll.
But until the day he crashed his motorcycle and Bill Randle gave him blood in the hospital,
Freed stuck mostly to black artists on the air and at the live shows he produced.
Claude: While I was writing the novel “I Love Radio,” I asked George Wilson what he
thought was the turning point in music for rock. I’m sure you recall tunes such as “How Much
Is That Doggie in the Window” and “Tennessee Waltz” and singers such as Pat Boone and
Patti Page and Peggy Lee. Radio was a constant barrage of such and, of course, the “do-wa”
groups like the Four Freshman. A lot of people are going to object to this comment, but pop
radio/music was boring. Yes, you had r&b and jazz and country music and sometimes they
were also quite boring.
George Wilson, as if he was surprised that I even asked, said, “Rock Around the
Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets.
“Of course,” I said, surprised that I’d asked.
However, for many of us, rock music was born with Elvis Presley, a while guy who sang
black songs. Someone may have been first, but Elvis was better. He was an image that
captured your soul. At first, he was poo-poo’d. Girls liked him. Boys hated him. There was a
fight at a dancehall in Lubbock; he played such as Hilltop and Cherry Springs in the Austin
area, too, during his beginning days. One girl I knew in college said she’d dated him. I don’t
know if she made out with him or not; that was less likely in those days. A “date” meant a
little smooching in the back seat, a couple of Cokes and I mean the kind originated in Atlanta.
I caught another ex-GI, a friend, listening to Elvis on Sun Records and he said he was listening
to Bill Black “for his guitar.” Sure. I believe that. But in those mid-50s rock’n’roll was not
really known on college campuses. One girl, to be hip, went to a record store and bought a
record player and some jazz albums. She had no idea of what she was buying. Coltrane who?
Then Elvis bit the finger of a girl who was interviewing him and made all of the newspapers.
Then came that knee that didn’t get to appear on Ed Sullivan.
On the “Louisiana Hayride,” Elvis became so big he was doing more than just an
encore. The crowd had become teens. They wanted more. Elvis negotiated and added a
drummer to his slap bass and lead guitar. Finally, Curly Fox had to come on stage and play
fiddle to calm the teens. They kept yelling “Elvis!”
When Elvis left that particular stage for good, others tried to fill his place. George Jones
used to try “Long Tall Sally” and usually ended up so hoarse it was the end of his evening.
Bob Luman had a good group. Had one tune that was great live, but the record didn’t capture
the excitement. He eventually went west, hoping to capitalize on his nebulous fame.
Then came Johnny Cash and while he wasn’t rock – the term “rockabilly” came out of
the woodworks – he was exciting. The “Louisiana Hayride” survived. Elvis, persona non
grata on the “Grand Ole Opry,” survived.
And rock and roll was imported north. Bill Randle of WERE in Cleveland promoted a
concert at a local high school featuring this guy in a red suit and later took him to a
summer-replacement TV show and guaranteed the audience that here was a star.
Yes, for me rock’n’roll didn’t start until Elvis Presley. Sorry Alan Freed. Sorry Bill Haley
and His Comets. Excuse me, George. It was Elvis Presley.
Claude: Where does a real personality go when the path he or she has trod literally vanishes
from beneath their feet? Radio as we knew it has faded away. Oh, thank god, there’s a small
market station hither and yon where a youngster can hear a glimmer of what used to be. But
some of the great jocks have moved to iPod, such as Dick Summer … some, such as Joey
Reynolds, are out there on “social media” and if not paving the way for future entertainers, as
least experimenting with the concept.
Joey Reynolds, certainly among all Top Tens, has taken “Reynolds Wrap” to where the
action is. Here's one of his YouTube programs:
Don Graham, guru of record promotion, noted the above “show,” for that’s what it is,
and commented: “Joey! Love the car! Love the sweater even more.” Joey’s stuff has also
records, he promotes friends. To be a friend of Don Graham is, indeed, a wonderful and noble
thing. He evidently let Morris Diamond and a few others know about Joey. That resulted in
Morris Diamond to Don Graham: “Please send me the link on Joey Reynolds and his car. A
couple of years ago, Alice and I took a cruise leaving from NYC ... we had a few hours before
boarding and we set up a lunch date with Joey ... meeting in Joe Franklin's ‘office’ first. We
had fun in Joe's office and then we had lunch ... and then Joey drove us to the pier to board our
ship ... and we had a ball. Joey's an old dear friend ... we both spoke at Morton Downey's
funeral as well. Luv 'n xxx to you and Robin.”
Claude: Well, I’m watching/listening to Joey Reynolds do his “thang” on Youtube and
Barbara heard me laughing. She loves Joey’s shows. And, as you know, Joey is always a
show. Joey was trying to con himself an old Mustang. Fat chance. That car was worth more
than he earned in Philadelphia. But it occurs to me: Wouldn’t it be great if Joey carved a new
modus operandi in social media for people with his kind of talent? You know, the explosive,
unpredictable, humorous kind of talent that humanity not only desires, but needs for survival. I
think we now have the media possibilities … the potentials … need the financial backing, i.e.,
advertising … or perhaps Joey will get his car. Love you, Joey!
Jerry Sharell also uses social media. I received this week an email promoting a blend of
“The Way You Look Tonight” featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing and Fred
singing from the movie “Swing Time” from 1936 along with Sharell’s version from 1991. I
can’t link you, but it’s on YouTube. Really nice. My compliments to Jerry. Rollye: I tried to
find it, couldn't find Jerry's version but did find a nice Astaire/Rogers clip of Swing Time.
Claude: Meanwhile, the ever-gracious Don Graham emailed Rollye James and me: “Hi,
Rollye and Claude. “Let’s hear it for Jerry Sharrell! In addition to his Saturday and Sunday
radio shows – ‘Sinatra & Sharrell’ – on KJAZZ (88.1 FM in Los Angeles), Jerry will be
performaing with the Ed Vodica Quartet & Strings at 8:15 p.m. Nov. 8 at Herb Alpert’s
Vibrato. Best wishes to you both.”
Ah, Jerry! Who wouldn’t love a show like that? There’s something about catching a
show live. Hard to beat. I’m too old to hit the nightclubs anymore. But Rollye and hubby
would enjoy something like that. One of these days … if they drift near the Vibrato … or even
drift near Los Angeles. I believe she lives under a tower pine tree these days. Maybe Herb
Alpert could movie his nightclub under that pine.
And Lyn Stanley’s email promoted her “Interludes” CD which has sold more than
20,000 copies worldwide in the past 18 months. She has something in her voice! Check it out:
Lyn's website is www.lynstanley.com. We love you, Lyn. Need I point out that Don
Graham promoted her first CD.
Claude: Las Vegas was once the entertainment capitol of the world and may still be. Two of
my sons, lawyer John Hall and poet/professor Andy Hall, are into music. They’re always
bringing magazines and promotional materials home. Andy was once paid to introduce an act
at one of the casinos. An act he knew personally. Anyway, one of the flyers I noticed laying
on an end table was promoting acts appearing at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay in Las
Vegas. I didn’t recognize any of the acts with the exception of Santana, appearing Nov. 4-15,
and Heart, appearing Nov. 19-21. Many of the works of Santana smack to me of greatness.
Yes, I worshipped Segovia and used to train out Long Island to catch one of his performances
and could be found at intermission backstage requesting an autograph on my program. Later,
with Billboard, I knew and admired Is Horowitz, his producer at CBS Records and a
gentleman of the first water. During my Billboard years, I admired and worshipped the music
of Chet Atkins who was without question the greatest guitar player in the United States when
Segovia was visiting Spain or some other country. Santana’s “Corazon Espinado” and “Riders
on the Storm” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” are massive works of art. I’m especially
fond of “Corazon Espinado” because of my leanings toward the Mexican genre when it comes
to music. His guitar mastery is just a great, great work of art. Hearts’ “Red Velvet Car”
impressed me. I would be interested in hearing more of this act’s music. I especially
appreciated “There You Go.” If I was a few years younger, you’d more than likely find me
down front at a Santana or a Heart performance.
Claude: Charlie Barrett, who didn’t realize Vox Jox was now on a website until he tracked
me and Rollye down: “Do you remember the Mexican restaurant across the street from
Billboard in NY, right near Variety? I used to eat there with Aaron Sternfield the summer i
worked at Billboard in 1967, a long time ago. We did not really know one another at BB at
Wish I’d known about that Mexican Restaurant. The only … and I mean ONLY …
Mexican restaurant of which I was aware in those days – and I searched -- was at 137 Waverly
Place in the Village. Basement (actually, a half floor down). The place across the street from
Billboard was La Strada, an Italian restaurant. And I mean it was Italian. The entire staff took
two weeks off in the summer and everyone went home. Billboard even had its staff meetings
there, with editor-in-chief Lee Zhito presiding. I ate eggplant parmesan. Great. We’ve just
discovered a frozen (TV dinner) version out of Austin, TX, that’s phenomenal. As I remember,
Variety was one street south and on the south side of the street. But Charlie, the 60s were a
long, long time ago! Lord, I do remember Aaron though! Tough guy! Walked fast to stay in
shape for skiing, which he loved like a demon with a passion. He hated Lee Zhito with the
same kind of passion. Just FYI, Charlie tracked me and Rollye down via Don Graham.
Don Graham to Mel Phillips: “Hi, ya, Mel! Imagine our Monday morning thrill when, upon
reading the current ‘Claude and Rollye’ issue, up comes your enthusiastic endorsement on our
newly released Matt Forbes CD ‘Coulda Woulda Shoulda’. Realizing the years of artists and
music you have enjoyed, the careers and records you have started, we are truly tempted to
enlarge your marvelous comments and possibly place it all on a Sunset Strip billboard. We are
most grateful, Mel. If our friend Jack Roberts had received this Vox Jox issue, he would be
on the phone yelling at me, ‘Did you see what Mel Phillips said about Matt Forbes?’ And then
he would immediately email Claude, asking permission to post it in his Hollywood Hills.
(God, I miss him!) And can recall how he enjoyed your frequent emails. He loved Boston,
you, and WRKO. Take good care, Mel. Best to you always.”
Claude: “This may seem like a Don Graham tribute issue. That’s okay. If anyone deserves a
tribute, it’s Don Graham.
Rollye: And it also helps that Don contributes to the column. You can too. Write to Claude
and to me here
. Reading that Charlie Barrett
didn’t realize we were online at
every Monday morning will light a fire under me to get the mailing list together.
In the meantime, remember to bookmark the site (or just save the URL VoxJox.org) and
remember to check it on Mondays.
are a few of my jazz picks for the Grammys. Hope all is well.
Larry Cohen: Claude, although over the years I had limited time spent with you, the times I
did spend, I found you to be anything other then a basketball player, a B/B fan or a merciless
round ball junkie. If I would have known then what I know now about you & your love of the
game, we would surely have been, without a doubt, ass-hole buddies starting in 1960, the year
I left teaching to pursue the love of my life, Music. I would have been connected to you like a
newborn pair of Siamese twins, forever un-bonded.
And if that would have occurred, there would have been no reason for me to remind you
of omitting the city of Philadelphia & it's dynamic & professional contribution of record men,
because as my Siamese brother, you would have been with me every minute I spent in the
record biz' & met & known them all.
But you weren't with me & unfortunately you were "born normal." So now you've put me
With Dick Clark's Bandstand still being the power before relocating to CA, Philly was
the music hub of record business with it's many record companies & powerful distributors. The
artists & label rep's came from all over the United States to Bandstand. That geographical plus
made the Philadelphia record distributor & it's promotional staff very powerful & important to
the labels they represented. For the past several weeks you have written about the record
people in L.A. & N.Y. with an additional heads up contribution by former record great, Ron
Alexenburg, naming the promotion greats emanating from his home town of Chicago.
Although I have been in CA for close to 40 years, I learned the record biz' from the ground up
in Philly starting as a local promotion rep' for Marnel Dists. where my reputation still remains
intact as does Ronnie's in Chicago & Russ Regan in L.A. where we all started as local
promotion men. And so, without further ado, I would like to name a few of the outstanding
record promotion people I remember so well.
Matty "the Humdinger" Singer, Tom Kennedy, Ray Milanese, Jerry Ross (who
ended up with his own label, Colosuss Records), Harold Childs (I 'stole' him from Mainline
Dist. to join us at Marnel Dist. In 3 weeks Harold was the first African-American promotion
rep' to call on radio in the city of Philly.) Jokingly, the "guys" for a while called me The Great
Emancipator & Harold went on to great success.
The unforgettable Buzz Curtis ( who should have been in Hollywood writing comedy.)
Joe Isgro, Danny Davis, yeh', he's from Philly), David Chackler, the late Fred Disipio, Red
Schwartz, Ron DiMarino & "Stunning" Steve Schulman. And I may have left off a name or
two, and to those I apologize.
: And to this day, Val Shively
has ever record ever promoted in Philly by every name
Larry just mentioned. He's got over 4 million 45s, sitting in his store known as R&B Records
at 49 Garrett Road in Upper Darby. Truly a shrine.
Speaking of Ron Alexenburg, here he is at John Rook's going away to LA party in
Chicago in 1970:
L-R: Shelby Singleton, Ron Alexenburg, John Rook
John Rook: Here's the story about Shelby, Ron and I. Columbia's follow up to "A Boy Named
Sue" was a bomb, so Art Roberts suggested we give airplay to "Get Rhythm" by Johnny
Cash when he was a Sun recording artist. Upon hearing about it, Ron Alexenburg flew
unannounced into Chicago to see me. My secretary told him I was at lunch and the name of the
restaurant. Ron arrives only find Art, Shelby Singleton and I having lunch. Shelby also had
flown in to Chicago that morning to thank Art for the WLS airplay on "Get Rhythm", I joined
them for lunch . . . It's one of my favorite memories, especially the look to Ron's face as he
approached our table...priceless !
Rollye: Interesting to read that George Wilson (who was also in attendance for John Rook's
going to LA party-- more pictures to come in the future from that gala) had a ready answer for
Claude about the first rock and roll record. I agree that “Rock Around The Clock” is a worthy
candidate if for no other reason than the masses it reached through Blackboard Jungle, but I
think any social change as big as the emergence of Rock and Roll is something organic that
historians can research back to many almost-simultaneous points. Jim Dawson & Steve Propes
As for the term, however, that’s easier to pinpoint, it having been around previously for
what seems like eons among African Americans as a euphemism for making love, which is
exactly how it was used in the The Dominoes’ 1951 hit, “Sixty Minute Man.” Sung from the
perspective of “Lovin’ Dan” a guy who could engage in the dirty deed for an hour, “I'll rock
‘em, roll ‘em all night long, I’m a sixty minute man,” was the repeated refrain. Freed couldn’t
resist proclaiming it a rock and roll record. It’s doubtful he had even an inkling he just
appropriated a term for nothing short of a zeitgeist, but he did it, nonetheless. As an aside, it’s
interesting that details of Dan’s prowess in the song are broken down in fifteen minute
increments, given later radio audience measurement yardsticks. But I digress. Again.