All posts by Old Rocker

hippie strumming guitar

Beatniks and Hippies

Beatnik cartoon
Beatnik cartoon

The Golden Age of Rock began with Beatniks and ended with Hippies. For most of the older generation, they were one and the same….dirty unwashed scum, but we know better. It was only some of the hippies that were dirty and unwashed … just kidding.

The label Beatnik grew from the Beat Generation, a label created by Jack Kerouac in the late 40s. The Beat part of the name, of course, came from the beat of the music, the stereotypical beatnik was into bongo drums and jazz. With the launch of Sputnik, the Russian satellite that beat the U.S. into space, the “nik” got tacked on to replace Generation and form a simpler label, Beatnik.

The trademark Beatnik look for men included goatees and berets, for women it was black leotards and long straight hair. This, of course, upset much of the middle class establishment and was considered rebellious.

man strumming guitar in clothing typical of hippies
1960s hippie

Sometime during the 60s, a separate counterculture arose that was labeled the Hip Generation or Hippies. Although some Beatniks became Hippies, the groups were culturally separate. Where the beats were known for “playing it cool” and keeping a low profile, the hippies became known for “being cool” and displaying their individuality. The key though, was that while Beatniks were into jazz, Hippies were heavy duty into Rock.

Along with the association with Rock music, Hippies were generally anti-establishment, anti-war, and anti-establishment, traits that didn’t win them too many friends from adult middle-class America. Although many took political action by dropping out of the mainstream, others became highly politicized and active in the Peace Movement and the historical 1968 Democratic Convention.

The Hippie world grew around three major metropolitan areas, all of them also music centers. On the East coast, New York’s Greenwich Village was the early center of Folk Music and Coffee Shops. On the West Coast, both Los Angeles an San Francisco grew major Hippie communities. The Los Angeles scene centered around Venice and its coffeehouses, San Francisco around it’s famous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and the Summer of Love.

Read more about Beatniks
Read more about the Hippie Movement
More about The Beat Generation

American Bandstand

American Bandstand was the most popular of the live music shows. It started as a local program in Philadelphia where it was originally called Bob Horn’s Bandstand. From 1952 until July 1956, Bob Horn was the host until he was fired after a drunk driving conviction and Dick Clark took over.

The ABC network picked up the show in August 1957, changed the name to American Bandstand, and broadcast it nationally. At first, it was bradcast daily, then starting in 1963 it was aired weekly until 1989. During it’s 32 year run, American Bandstand was Rock music’s showcase of good behavior. The dancers were always clean and well dressed, there was no profanity, and performers were on their best behavior.

Dancing on American Bandstand
Dancing on American Bandstand

Shows typically featured the latest hit music, a performance by a popular musician or group, and ratings of songs from the audience, but the biggest attraction was usually the dancers. Each program featured a studio full of teens doing the latest dances. These were all local kids and were unpaid, but they knew all of the latest dances and may have even invented a few on their own. American Bandstand is also noted as being probably the first of it’s kind to show blacks and whites on the same stage, and have mixed seating in the audience.

American Bandstand made Dick Clark a national star but his ties to the music publishing business almost got him in trouble with the US Senate subcommittee investigating payola. A play on American Bandstand could give a new song an immediate boost, and it was noticed that songs from local companies which Clark had investments in were played more often than others. In the end, the Senate didn’t find any illegal activity from Dick Clark, but ABC forced him to sell his outside investments in music publishing.

The Moondog Coronation Ball

Moondog Coronation Ball poster
Moondog Coronation Ball poster

It’s always tough nailing down exactly when a culture was born, but for Rock and Roll, the date was March 21, 1952. That was the date of the Moondog Coronation Ball, generally regarded as the birthday of Rock and Roll.

This music style wasn’t new, it had been popular in the black community for years where it was known as Rhythm and Blues. The new part was Alan Freed who had recently popularized the term “Rock and Roll” on his radio show. A local promoter named Lew Pratt signed Freed on to publicize the event.

Freed’s radio show was called Moondog’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Party, and he brought along his on-air persona “Moondog”. The coronation turned out to be for him as the Moondog Coronation Ball earned him the title “King” of Rock and Roll. It was a great mix, using Freed’s radio station and sponsors for promotion, they soon sold out the first printing of 7,000 tickets. Check out the price…the best tickets sold for $1.75. The concert was booked in the Cleveland arena which was thought to have plenty of room, but after the first batch of 7,000, another 2,000 were printed and sold out immediately. Apparently, a counterfeiter was also printing tickets, and the end result was a lot more people waiting to get in than seats were available.

Crowd outside the Moondog Coronation Ball
Crowd outside the Moondog Coronation Ball

As the starting time approached, lines formed around the block and the arena was packed. It was a mixed audience, about 2/3 white and 1/3 black, and in the 50s, a mixed audience was highly unusual. Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams took the stage, and almost immediately the first fight broke out…the first Rock and Roll concert was shut down by the Fire Marshals after only one song. The Dominoes, Tiny Grimes, the Rockin’ Highlanders, Danny Cobb and Varietta Dillard were left backstage and never performed.

On the day after the Moondog Coronation Ball, Freed went on the air to apologize to his fans. He expressed concern that he was going to be arrested and emphasized that he was only a hired MC and not the promoter of the show. Listeners were urged to call in with their support, which must have been successful because his station increased his airtime.

The Newport Folk Festival

The 2010 Newport Folk Festival
The 2010 Newport Folk Festival

The Newport Folk Festival started in 1959 as a spinoff of the Newport Jazz Festival, a long running fixture at Newport Rhode Island. There are 4 stages at Fort Adams State Park with the seating area ovelooking the water and Jamestown Bridge. It’s a beautiful place for a concert.

The Festival has a history of introducing new artists and launching careers. Bob Gibson introduced then-unknown Joan Baez in 1959. Baez in turn introduced then-unknown Bob Dylan at the 1963 festival. Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash (who later introduced Kris Kristofferson in 1969), and many others also got their first big exposure at Newport.

It was the 1965 Newport Folk Festival that will be remembered as the day of change or maybe the beginning of the end for Folk Music. Bob Dylan was by then the one of the biggest folk stars and a Festival headliner. On July 25th Bob Dylan performed 3 of his hit traditional folk songs with acoustic instruments. Then he strapped on a Fender Stratocaster and ripped through a high energy set of electric amplified rock accompanied by Mike Bloomfield and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

The Newport Folk Festival 1963 album
The Newport Folk Festival 1963 album

Dylan played 3 electric numbers, “Maggie’s Farm”, “Like a Rolling Stone”, and “Phantom Engineer”. The folk crowd was shocked and the boos may have outnumbered the cheers, but all together they were reported to be louder than the sound of the electric guitars. Dylan left the stage for a while and later came back to perform a few more acoustic numbers.

It was later debated whether the boos were from the shock of electric at the traditional acoustic festival, or that the quality of the electric sound was lousy. Others believe that it was because Dylan was held to a tight time allotment and they wanted more.

Whatever the reason, it was a watershed moment in the evolution of rock. Dylan got a similar reaction at his next concert at at Forest Hills Stadium. The crowd was split, half loved it, half wanted the old Bob Dylan back. They weren’t going to get him back.

As a side note, in 2005 The Pixies, a heavy duty alternative rock band best known for punk rock, played an acoustic set at Newport. Sort of like a reverse Dylan.

The Newport Folk Festival is still running. The format has changed a few times, but every summer, the world’s greatest folk artists meet, play, introduce new artistst and show off new works at Newport.

Scandal – Payola

Payola newspaper scandal headlines
Payola newspaper scandal headlines

Payola wasn’t new to the music industry when Rock and Roll arrived.  Several factors seemed to come together at the same time, leading to a blowup that radically changed the course of Rock and Roll.

The term Payola is a contraction of the words pay and Victrola, a popular brand of record player. Sometimes called Pay To Play  It’s the illegal practice of record companies paying money for the playing of records. This made a record appear more popular that it might have been, giving the artist more exposure, a better rating on the charts, and influencing other radio stations that might be on the lookout for the next hot record. It’s not as common or outright now as it was in the past, or maybe it’s just hidden better. The law prevents record companies from paying directly, but still allows payments through intermediaries.

  • At most radio stations now, a music director or manager selects the songs to be played and, frequently, the order and time where they will be played. It was mentioned earlier that the Payola scandal arose due to several factors that came together at the same time. Consider these cultural changes:
  • Rock was new, popular with the kids, and generally disliked by their parents.
    The two large music licensing companies, ASCAP and BMI were at odds. They were always competitive, but ASCAP had a slow start in the Rock and Roll business and possibly saw a way to get even with rival BMI. One can only guess that they saw Rock and Roll as a passing fad!
  • Technology was giving power to the independent radio stations. Radio was previously confined to the home where family standards controlled the dial. Introduction of personal radios, clock radios, and the portable transistor radio gave teens their own dial to control.
  • By the late 50s, the post-war baby boomers were a sizeable economic force, and advertisers found that Top 40 radio was a good way to target them, leading to a boom in independent stations.

The inexpensive, newly introduced 45 rpm single allowed teens to purchase popular hits on a limited budget.  Also, consider that the Payola scandal came along at a time that elected officials were just learning how to get free publicity from holding high profile hearings. This was the time of the McCarthy Hearings, and the Payola inquiries were carried out by the same commission that was working on the television game show investigations.

The Payola Congressional Hearings

Twenty-five witnesses were called, the most famous being Alan Freed and Dick Clark, and the list included other notables such as Les Paul, Bobby Darin, and Murray the K. Ironically, at the time, Payola wasn’t actually against the law, although Alan Freed was eventually convicted on 2 counts of commercial bribery.

Much has been written about the difference between Freed and Clark. Alan Freed resisted testifying on principle, claiming that he never played a record he didn’t actually consider worthwhile, no matter what was given to him. His attitude didn’t play well with the industry, and he was essentially blackballed, ending his DJ career. Freed died a few years later, broke, alcoholic, and depressed in 1965.

Dick Clark, on the other hand, testified freely and even brought a statistician with him to prove that payola had not affected the sales of records with which he was affiliated. He had sold his music related interests before the hearings.

His testimony included “I have not done anything that I think I should be ashamed of or that is illegal or immoral,” Mr. Clark said, “and I hope to eventually convince you of this. I believe in my heart that I have never taken payola”. At another point in the hearing, Representative Steven B. Derounian quipped “You say you did not get any payola, but you got an awful lot of royola”.

Others caught in the fray include Les Paul and Bobby Darin, both charged with paying to perform on Freed’s ABC television show, and DJs Joe Niagara (WIBG, Philadelphia), Tom Clay (WJBK, Detroit), Murray “The K” Kaufman (WINS, New York), Arnie “Woo Woo Ginsberg WMEX, Boston), and Stan Richards (WILD, Boston).

Wolfman Jack

Wolfman Jack
Wolfman Jack

In the early days of rock, when all that we had was AM radio, Wolfman Jack taught us how to rock.

Clap for the Wolfman
He gonna rate your record high
Clap for the Wolfman
You gonna dig him til the day you die

These words are from the opening of the song “Clap for the Wolfman” by the Guess Who….and it’s not just any DJ that gets songs written about them!

Bob Smith, aka Wolfman Jack, borrowed some strong style ideas from the king of DJs. Alan Freed. Freed had used the name Moondog at the start of his Rock and Roll career; Smith used the moniker Wolfman. Freed used a howl in his broadcasts, Smith borrowed the howl and took it further adding his low gravely voice.

The Wolfman gained fame while broadcasting from XERF-AM, a super power radio station in Mexico, just over the border at Del Rio, Texas. AM stations in the US were limited at the time to 50 KW, XERF in Mexico was broadcasting at 500 KW and could be received across the US and into Canada. He played a wild mix of music, mixing in rockabilly, blues, doo-wop, zydeco, rhythm and blues, and jazz.  These styles were all the parents of rock. And of course, he played rock and roll.  Wolfman Jack’s nightly show brought them all together and introduced fans of each style to the new rock.

His music selections led many listeners to assume that he was Afro-American, and he did his best to hide his true identity. Some say that if it were known that he was a white boy from Brooklyn, the frequent howls and sexually suggestive persona wouldn’t have had the same effect. The Wolfman passed away in 1995, but reruns of his shows are still being played.

Wolfman Jack’s Honors

The Wolfman is a member of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Don Steele

The Real Don Steel
The Real Don Steel

Don Steele, often promoted as “The Real Don Steele” to distinguish himself from another DJ with the same name, was one of the most popular disc jockeys in the United States, from the mid 60s until his retirement in the 90s.
Steele first fame came as a DJ on Los Angeles radio station KHJ with the “top-40 Boss Radio format” in the 60s. He also appeared on TV in his own programs called Boss City and The Real Don Steele TV Show, a show which ran from 1965 to 1975 on KHJ-TV channel 9 in Los Angeles. When FM stereo radio gained popularity in the 1970s, Steele made the switch and continued his popularity.
In a 1995 interview, his description of Boss Radio was, “Look, you take the Motown sound and the British Invasion and you throw in Elvis and Roy Orbison, and you have a music mix that’s hard to beat at any time or any place”.

Murray the K

Murray the K
Murray the K

Murray the K worked as a promoter and producer through the 50’s, but he caught his big break in 1958 when he signed on with WINS in New York to do the all-night show. This was just as WINS’s star disk jockey, Alan Freed, was indicted for tax evasion and forced off the air. Freed’s spot was briefly occupied by Cousin Bruce, Bruce Morrow, but Murray was quickly moved into the time period and remained there for the next seven years.

When he left WINS, his next stop was at WOR-FM where. As program director and primetime evening DJ, he created the first FM rock station, setting the pattern for countless other stations that followed, including WNEW-FM and WCBS-FM.

Kaufman reached his peak of popularity in the mid 60s when, as the top-rated radio host in America’s largest market, he became an early supporter of The Beatles. Later, Murray was referred to as the “Fifth Beatle,” by George Harrison during a train ride from New York to the Beatles’ first U.S. concert in Washington, D. C. Their friendship was renewed when they came to NYC in February, 1964 and met again. He was invited to the set of A Hard Day’s Night in England and made several treks to England during 1964, giving WINS listeners more Beatle exclusives.

Following Alan Freed’s lead, Murray produced several concerts each year. Those shows featured the top performers of the era and introduced new acts, such as Dionne Warwick, Wayne Newton, Bobby Vinton (who was the leader of the house band when he asked for a chance to perform as a singer), The Lovin’ Spoonful, Cream, and The Who. Murray the K left WINS in the mid-60s when they switched formats, and worked at stations in Toronto and Washington D.C. before returning to New York to team with Don Imus and Wolfman Jack on WNBC.

Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg

Arnie Woo Woo GinsbergGather ’round everybody, for you’re about to hear,
The show that’s gonna make you, grin from ear to ear,
It’s Arnie Ginsberg, on the Night Train Show.
He plays the old and new, the swinging and the blue,
He plays all the records, especially for you,
It’s Arnie Ginsberg, on the Night Train Show

Hey, Arnie Woo Woo Ginsburg was good, he wasn’t a great up in the same class as some of the others here, but he was my disk jockey growing up in greater Boston. Every major market had a DJ like Arnie, he was hyper, fast talking, and knew his music inside and out.
Every night, we’d crank up WMEX on our radio tubes and listen to his bells, horns, whistles, and “Adventure Car Hop is the place to go for food that’s really great”….and if you said “Woo Woo” when you ordered, you’d get 2 burgers for the price of one!

Mixed in with his chatter was top 20 music, and if you wanted in on the buzz the next day, you had to listen to Arnie at night.

Alan Freed – The Father of Rock and Roll

Alan Freed
Alan Freed

Perhaps the biggest hero in the story the Rock and Roll revolution was Alan Freed. Freed wasn’t a musician, but a disc jockey and promoter who earned the name “Father of Rock and Roll”. Keep in mind that rock was originally known as Race music or African-American Rhythm and Blues and was very rarely played on white radio. Freed wasn’t the first to play rock on the air, but he was a skilled promoter and by calling it Rock instead of Rhythm and Blues, and by playing mostly white covers of black songs. In doing so, he became a pioneer in racial integration at a time when segregation was rampant.

Originally known on the air at radio station WJW in Cleveland, Ohio, as “Moondog”, he set up what was probably the first rock and roll concert and called it “The Moondog Coronation Ball” on March 21, 1952. The event was attended by a racial mix which was unusual for the times. It drew a large crowd but had to be ended early due to overcrowding.

Later concerts were much more successful and continued to draw large mixed crowds. Within a few years, he moved to the big market in New York City where he turned WINS into a rock and roll radio station. Later, he would go on to record programming for Radio Luxembourg whose broadcast covered all of Eastern Europe. It’s interesting to picture The Beatles as youngsters listening to Freed’s show and playing along with the music.

More success followed, as Freed went on to star in several motion pictures featuring many of the new Rock Stars that he helped to create.

Alan Freed at WABC
Alan Freed at WABC

Television followed his movie success, but problems soon arose with the IRS, questions about royalties, and the Payola scandal. His series was cancelled, but interestingly, as Freed left television, the void that was created was filled by another DJ named Dick Clark.
The final blows to his career came as a result of the Payola investigation, when he was accused of accepting bribes for playing records, coupled with accusations that he had been given credit as a co-writer for some songs. As a co-writer, he was able to receive royalties, and this encouraged him to heavily promote the song. Chuck Berry’s Mabeline was a notable example cited.

Freed ended up pleading guilty to commercial bribery and was given a suspended sentence along with a fine. Although the punishment was relatively light, his tarnished reputation prevented the top stations from hiring him and interfered with his concert promotions. Alan Freed died young in 1965 before he was able to fully re-establish his reputation.

In 1978, the motion picture American Hot Wax was released, inspired by Freed’s contribution to the rock and roll scene, leading up to a concert that was held in New York City in 1959. In 1986, Freed was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was built in Cleveland in recognition of his involvement in the birth of Rock. In 1988, he was also posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame and was later recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.