This is the story of how I changed Rock `n' Roll History (maybe.) It is a true story; I've told it many times. Some of the facts can be corroborated. You can look them up. You could even talk to the other people who were there at the time, if you can find them. But it's my memory, and it's a true story. You can be the judge of whether history was changed.
The story starts when I was a freshman at Amherst College, or even before that. I was a high school debater. My partner Donald Eaton and I virtually started the Salem High School Debating Club, and he and I went from novice to the state championships in a single year. (I have a plaque they gave me up on the wall, just there, on the left.) We lost the championship debate, as it turns out, to a team which included a guy who also went to Amherst College, and is now a distinguished historian. That's another story.
I was anxious about starting college, for a number of reasons, but I thought at least that I could write and speak. English I-II demolished my notions about writing, but there was this campus radio station.
I had a fondness for radio. It was a companion in my early teen-age isolation. Dickie Summer was the all-night DJ for WBZ, a national legend. Radio itself was wonderful to me; it was in the air and available, you didn't have to listen, but it was out there nonetheless. None of this `what if a tree fell in the forest...' crap for me. The tree crashed always, and radio was there, always, whether anyone listened or not.
These notions may not have been so well formed back in 1963-64, but the basics were in place, so my sophomore year came and I was on the WAMF staff
The radio station had a Program Manager named Bob Carson. He was a year ahead of me, and he and some of his friends had established an afternoon rock `n' roll show. Bob was really into format radio, and he had been inspired by the `good guys' on a famous big city station. The Bad Guys were on from 4 to 6 every afternoon, one guy each day of the week. We had theme music (Cozy Cole) and the show had all of the little jingles, intros, `spots' and `bits' common to rock `n' roll radio at the time. We had our own top ten, compiled from local music stores, we did the news on the hour, sports, weather, the whole bit.
I progressed at WAMF, and eventually became the `chief announcer.' I did a little bit of everything: I was color man once on a basketball broadcast; I did tech work, fixing patches and yelling at the phone company; I read the news, did studio engineering, helped with the music library. I developed my own late night jazz show and, best of all, I became the Wednesday Bad Guy.
I was Greg Richards on the radio, because I didn't think that `Minutillo' was a good rock `n' roll name.
Rock `n' roll dominated radio in the early 60's. The guys at Amherst from the south, Philadelphia and New York I mean, looked to those cities for their inspiration, but I still saw WBZ in Boston as true `big time' radio. We had a local powerhouse, however, WHYN in Springfield, and for the Bad Guys, WHYN was our comparison point, and our main competition. In our view, WHYN knew we were there, and we occasionally allowed ourselves the flattering notion that they copied us (and not the other way around.)
In the beginning of my junior year, 1965, I was well established as a Bad Guy. I spent a lot of time at the station, hanging out and doing various chores. Part of the fascination for me was seeing a bit of the `back end' of the music business. To be competitive, we subscribed to services which provided copies of the latest 45's from the big labels and established stars. We also were on just about every `junk' music mailing list we knew of, and got lots of unsolicited material. Most of the unsolicited stuff ended up in what we called the `junk box,' and it was an aptly named assortment.
Because I was on Wednesdays, was the chief announcer, and generally had a large ego, I had the duty to select our pick hit of the week. One afternoon, I was browsing through the junk box and a 45 in a printed jacket caught my eye.
Most of the stuff in the junk box looked like junk. The 45's were usually in simple blank sleeves that had large holes in them to allow the printed labels from the mostly unknown companies show through. This particular 45, however, had a full, solid jacked, nicely printed on glossy paper with a black and white photo of the group; an outlandish collection of two men and two women. One of the women was spectacularly beautiful, by hippie standards, and the other was amazingly fat, by any standards. I was quite taken by the photo, and I immediately pinned the jacket up on the studio wall. As an afterthought, I played the 45.
The group was the Mama's and the Papa's; the A side was California Dreamin'. I liked it. I liked the picture. The tune became the WAMF pick hit of the week, and I played it on my next Wednesday Bad Guy show.
Amazingly enough, other people liked the tune, as well, even people who hadn't seen the sleeve photo. It was a popular pick hit. Perhaps by coincidence, but probably not, it also was named the pick hit of the following week by WHYN in Springfield.
From time to time we had experimented, picking obviously lousy songs as our WAMF pick hits, to see if WHYN would pick up on them, and once or twice before they had. In this case they were following a good pick, but it's still possible that they were following WAMF and not picking independently. I can't know that for sure.
I do know that in short order California Dreamin' started to sell in local stores, and within a couple of weeks it was a pick hit in Boston. By the winter of 1965 it was on the Billboard New England Hot 100.
By early 1966 California Dreamin' had `broken out' nationally, and was on it's way to #1. Look it up: it was the Billboard #1 song of 1966. It broke out nationally after being a hit in New England, and it was my Pick Hit of the Week in the fall of 1965.
Not too many people remember the Five Bad Guys these days. We're long gone: Les Black and his `rack sack and stack of black shellac;' Chet Currier, Bob Carson himself, and many others of us who at one time or another were Bad Guys. We played lots of good music, and lots of bad music. And then we graduated.
I haven't been on the radio since a brief stint on the U.C. Santa Barbara station in 1968.
Once, just before my senior year at Amherst, when I was working at WFCR, a `four college' station at U. Mass., I was hitch-hiking and a guy picked me up who recognized my voice from my late night jazz show. He was a fan.
Well, fans, the music is still out there, the corny jingles, the station breaks, the DJ patter. It's in the `ether' on it's way, by now, past Wolf 359, past Proxima Centauri, and (as I write) about 6 years away from the recently discovered planets of Upsilon Andromedae. Now if those guys pick California Dreamin' in 2006...
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