Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wolfman Jack: EN EL AIRE, Parte 2

On-location during production of American Graffiti, smoking one of his typical non-filtered cigarettes.


WHY I HATE CHER
Hey fellow Graffiti fans this is Part II of my tribute to Wolfman Jack.  Before we get back to the facts, let me briefly share with you some personal reflections.  As a kid, I was first introduced to the Wolfman in the movie American Graffiti.  I'd never heard him on the radio.  At the time I listened to two San Francisco, Bay Area radio stations; KYA and KFRC.  Both played the current popular hits but KYA played the Top 10 every hour.  Due to the popularity of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, (and, perhaps HAPPY DAYS), Bill Hayley's 1955 classic, "ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK" had re-entered the 1974 record charts and was getting a lot of airplay. I loved "ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK" and wanted to have the  AMERICAN GRAFFITI SOUNDTRACK partially because it included this song. Around that time the radio station had a contest.  I was something like the 13th caller on KYA and I won the record of my choice from Tower Records.  My dad was too cheap to actually drive me to Tower Records to pick it up so I had to write them and ask them to send me an album.  The people at Tower told me to list several choices in case they were sold out of my first pick.  I listed the AMERICAN GRAFFITI SOUNDTRACK as my first choice and BILL COSBY'S GREATEST HITS as a second choice.  The day that my record finally came in the mail I was thrilled. I opened the package only to be completely dumbfoundead because the record store had sent me the album, FOXY LADY  by Cher.  WTF?  I hadn't even listed this as a choice.  I wanted that Graffiti soundtrack so bad and instead I get an album that I'd never heard of by Cher.  Even if that Cher album was decent, (which it wasn't, It didn't even have one of her hits like Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves or Half-Breed), I would never have appreciated it because it would always remind me of what I wanted but didn't have; The AMERICAN GRAFFITI SOUNDTRACK. To this day I experience extreme displeasure if I happen to hear Cher's music.

Anyways, eventually my dad bought the Graffiti soundtrack on 8-track so he, I mean we, could listen to it in the family Chevy pick-up truck.  I can still see the multitude of tiny blisters on the label caused by the heat generated from excessive playing.  I absolutely loved the portions that had Wolfman talking on the phone to people.  The music played afterwards was almost secondary.  I just really loved the Wolfman parts.  Because I had never heard him on the radio, his voice and personality was new to me. Wolfman was funny, mysterious, and personable. So, that was my introduction to the legendary DJ. Unfortunately, after that he was never quite as good.  He could never ever be as cool or live up to the reputation that I had built in my mind. Eventually when I did hear him in radio syndication playing "Strawberry Letter 23" by The Brothers Johnson or saw him on The Midnight Special  introducing Helen Reddy it just wasn't the same.  So, its in honor of the earlier years of Wolfman Jack's career and the earlier years of our lives that I dedicate this second installment of WOLFMAN JACK: EN EL AIRE. Enjoy!

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And now, on with the show...




WOLFMAN DOES LUCAS

Wolfy & Lucas picking his favorite "wolfisms."
After disposing of his remaining interests in XEPRS in early April, Wolfman immediately began working for KDAY 1580 in Santa Monica, CA. It was during this time that he was asked to be in American Graffiti. George Lucas was a huge Wolfman Jack fan and evidently, without talking to him, had planned on having him in his new feature film.   According to his biography, when Wolfman went to Universal Studios for an interview, his radio show had already been written into the script.  In his biography he explained, "On almost every page I kept finding the oddest thing-‘Wolfman says this…’ ‘Wolfman says that…’" he remembered.  He was thrilled with the prospect of being in the film. Although his biography claims he first read the script when he went to Universal Studios, the writers of the film remember things differently. In the book, Classic American Films: Conversations with the Screenwriters, the husband and wife team, Willard Huyuck and Gloria Katz told editor, William Baer, "George said take it to the Wolfman and it turned out he was broadcasting two blocks away from where we were living in Echo Park. So we drove over, gave him the pages, and he read it with tears in his eyes. He said it was absolutely wonderful."  Eventually, Wolfman agreed to play himself in the low-budget feature for $1,000 a day.  It was not much money for such a famous icon but in 1972 he was barely getting by on his annual KDAY salary of $18,000 and he needed to pay back some large debts that he had incurred while at XERB.  And, besides, he thought being featured in the film would be great publicity.  He couldn't have been more right!

Wolfy & George Lucas pose by the '32 coupe at the Avco Cinema Center Theater Press Screening, 1973

Incidentally, there are more than a few discrepancies between what is written in Wolfman's biography and the way things actually happened. For example, he takes credit for making up one of his lines in Graffiti: On page 226 Wolfman states, "One improvised thing I can take credit for out of that whole great picture: the bit where I hand him [Rick Dreyfuss] a Popsicle and say, Sticky Little Mothers, ain't they."  Sticky little lie is more like it. One only has to look at an early draft of the script to see that this line is clearly written into the text way before filming took place.  In fact, more than half of what was written for Wolfman in the original script was cut from the film partly because his performance was so awkward and he kept flubbing his lines.  When recalling Wolfman's delivery of what they had written for him,  Huyuck says, "I don't think Wolfman quite pulled it off.  But the feeling's still there, and Rick [Dreyfuss] found ways to make it work."  That's right, Katz agreed, "but Rick helped.  He ad-libbed things and tried to loosen up the Wolfman."  Regardless of the writer's criticism, I think most would agree that the scene turned out really well.


Wolman’s radio show is the backbone of American Graffiti. In the Lucas biography, Mythmaker co-producer, Gary Kurtz told the author that when Wolfman used to broadcast out of Mexico the signal would often fade in and out.  "He was an ethereal presence in the lives of the young people," Kurtz said, "and, it was that quality that we wanted and obtained in the picture."  Because every teenager in the film is listening to his show on their car radio at the same time, the radio program acts as a thread tying the individual stories together.  Most of the DJ's patter that is heard on car radio speakers throughout Graffiti was taken from tapes that were originally broadcast between 1966-71 on XERB.  George Lucas and Wolfman listened to hours of tapes of his old radio shows and picked out dedication requests and ad-libbed bits to use on the soundtrack.  Only about 10-20 percent of the Wolfman's show was new and recorded expressly for the film.

The KRE studio in Berkeley, CA doubled as XERB
Radio station KRE in Berkeley, California leased out one of their studios for the night to allow Lucas and crew to film the pivotal sequence where Curt visits the Wolfman at his radio station, XERB. Although Wolfman's appearance is brief he plays a pivotal role in the movie.  Sound designer, Walter Murch has pointed out that Wolfman in the story is like the wizard in The Wizard of OZ.  The important deity-figure that the protagonist seeks out winds up being just a little man in a booth, twiddling some knobs.  And, in both films the larger-than-life figure helps the lead character to reach their destiny.  Whereas, the wizard provides Dorothy with a way to return home, Wolfman acts as a catalyst for Curt to leave home. In the moment that he realizes the pot bellied, middle-aged station manager is really Wolfman Jack, Curt finds the courage to face an outside world.

There was very little pre-promotion for American Graffiti.  However, for a preview screening on May 15, 1973 Universal Studios executive, Ned Tanen called Wolfman and asked him to pack the house at The Writer's Guild Theater in Beverley Hills.  Wolfman got on the air at KDAY and helped them draw a big crowd of young people.  Most of the cast attended the screening, and apparently the crowd loved the movie.

At the premier of American Graffiti with Kim Fowley who produced the 3 Flash Cadillac tunes for the film.

By the time Graffiti had been officially released in theaters, Wolfman had moved from Los Angeles to New York to work at station, WNBC. The station had hired him to compete against Top 40 legend, Cousin Brucie on WABC. Both claimed victory, but the truth is somewhere in the middle. In less than a year Cousin Brucie left WABC and joined WNBC which no longer had to worry about competing against him.  



AMERICAN GRAFFITI IS A SUCCESS


While at WNBC in the Fall of 1973, Wolfman spent his time and some of his own
money helping publicize American Graffiti by making promotional appearances and setting up giveaways for albums, posters, and other items.  As we know, American Graffiti went on to become one of the most profitable films in Hollywood history.  George Lucas was grateful to those that helped make the film a success and showed his gratitude by sharing the wealth.  After the film made $20 million in profits Lucas and co-producer, Gary Kurtz generously began sharing a small percentage of the film’s profits with its stars including Wolfman.  For the first few years after Graffiti was released Wolfman said he'd get royalty checks for about $175,000 every six months. However, cast member, Cindy Williams once told Entertainment Weekly magazine the total ended up being over $50,000 for each of them.  Regardless,  after a few checks Wolfman was able to pay back his debts incurred while at XERB.  At the time of his death he was still receiving periodic residual checks.

Wolfy, & Graffiti stars, Cindy Williams & Paul LeMat at the press screening for the film.
WOLFMAN IN SYNDICATION

1975 trade ad for syndicated shows
There's no question he was extremely busy.  In the same year he filmed his appearance in Graffiti he had joined KDAY and under the guidance of manager, Don Kelley, he began expanding the distribution of a daily 3-hour syndicated radio program available once a week to six times a week in stereo or monaural versions.  Wolfman didn't spend time recording new shows for distribution but simply re-edited old ones. Just as in Graffiti he had a whole refrigerator full of melting Popsicles, Wolfman, in real life, had a whole warehouse full of dissolving radio shows on reel-to reel tapes. These old XERB recordings were re-cut to fit any town in the United States, at anytime. Wolfman hired 18 year-old Lonnie Napier to review tapes of old shows and edit out any comments that specifically stated a time and place.  Napier explains, "I was taking all the time elements out.  Nothing could say 'night time,' nothing could say 'Los Angeles.'  'I'm down here on Wilshire Blvd., It's cold-it's hot!'  It all had to be real generic," he explained.  Wolfman's syndicated program was first picked up in Honolulu, then Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Because of his appearance in Graffiti, Wolfman's status was elevated from cult hero to international superstar, thus causing his pre-recorded shows to spread like wildfire across the nation.  Finding an accurate amount for the number of radio stations that aired Wolfman's syndicated shows at one time may never be known.  The number quoted by Wolfman in different interviews and press releases was never the same, but, there can be no denying that the number was huge.  In 1981 he told a British journalist, "I've got 200 markets in the U.S. on radio, 50 in Canada, plus a French show in Europe."   "I have about 30 people working with me," he explained, "people who duplicate the tapes for my radio shows and ship 'em out." 

U.S. Air Force recruiting show
His most popular shows through the years included "The Wolfman Jack Show," with researched current hit music; "Wolfman Jack's 'Graffiti' Gold," showcasing hits from the '50s through the '70s;  and "Wolfman Jack International," which aired worldwide on the Armed Forces Radio Network for 16 years, (1970-86).  In addition to his regular shows, Wolfman began a recruiting public service program for the US Air Force. This entailed constructing half-hour shows that sounded similar to a regular Wolfman broadcast with current music but after about 2 songs into the program he would pontificate the virtues of the military and attempt to persuade young people to enlist.  For many years the show was distributed monthly for free, in a 2-lp box set format, to top 40 radio stations, public schools, and colleges across the United States. Nowadays, some of these box sets can often be found for sale on E-bay.
 
With Lonnie Napier who spent more than 20 years working as producer for WOLFMAN JACK
LOSING CONTROL

One of the drawbacks of being syndicated was that he didn't have the freedom to play whatever music he wanted to as he once had when he was broadcasting from the "border blasters." In 1980 he told interviewer, Brian Dallas Day how when he took over radio station XERB in the mid-1960s he could do what he wanted. "I was never plagued by ego-trip program directors or formula rock and roll radio stations, I was always a personality doing my own trip, ya know." When Jack had broadcast from Mexico he could segue records any way he wanted.  For example; he would spin a current Marvin Gaye record one minute, the next an up-tempo jazz instrumental by Jimmy McGriff and then close out the set with a classic 1950s oldie such as I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos.

 Even when he was on the air from 7:00pm to midnight, at station WNBC in 1973 he had total creative control over what he could play and say for about the first 6 months he was there. No program director or general manager could  interfere with his decision.  Much to the dismay of he and his fans, in order to stay on the airwaves of commercial radio Wolfman had to change his "anything goes" style and play current popular music as determined by the sometimes bland Top 40 music charts. He once told a British newspaper writer, "I want to stay in syndication so there are rules and regulations that I have to comply with," he said, "and a lot of control of the music is out of my hands. But, they haven't been able to control my mouth."  However, Wolfman even had to censor his suggestive language.  On mainstream radio he could no longer ask female callers, "Are your little peaches sweet?" Certain terms that were once part of the Wolfman lexicon had to be eliminated to comply with FCC regulations at the time. "I'm gonna have to cut some of that stuff out," he regrettably told Creem magazine in August 1972 when he was working at KDAY and his syndicated show was just beginning to take off.  "They won't let me say whizz or boogaloo anymore." It's too bad. He was once the outlaw boss of Border radio, but became legit and wound up bowing down to the demands of the marketplace by way of play lists determined by audience research, consultants, and computer software. 

WOLFMAN ON NATIONAL TV
Both a Culture Club and Rolling Stones video can be seen in this 1984 clip of Wolf Rock TV
Woflman & Bopper
Once Graffiti, was a hit Wolfman Jack quickly became a household personality and was no longer associated with just the radio.  Soon, anyone with a TV set knew who he was. In 1973 he began an eight-year stint as host of NBC-TV's The Midnight Special, a late-night, weekly 90 minute program of recorded performances from various pop entertainers.  He had his own short-lived variety TV show which was broadcast in Canada during the mid-1970s. And, he reportedly made close to 80 guest appearances on various TV shows; his first was The Odd Couple (1973) and his last was Married with Children (1995). He also made a couple of cameos in B-movies such as "Hotel Hell." Various tributes to the Wolfman entered the pop charts including, The Guess Who's, "CLAP FOR THE WOLFMAN," "WOLFMAN JACK" by Todd Rundgren, "HIT THE ROAD JACK" by The Stampeders, and "DID YOU BOOGIE WITH YOUR BABY ?"  by Flash Cadillac which featured voice-overs by the hairy one himself.  In 1984 there was even a Saturday morning Wolfman Jack cartoon series, called, WOLF ROCK TV. The cartoon was about station manager, Wolfman Jack who oversaw 3 kids as they operated a rock TV show featuring real live action videos.  Later, In 1989, the Dick Clark produced cartoon ran in syndication under the title, Wolf Rock Power Hour.

WOLFMAN THE ROCK STAR 

An ad for his single from his 1972 self-titled album.
Wolfman Jack on 8-Track tape
At the same time he was sending out his syndicated programs, Wolfman released three record albums between 1972-75.  For these albums he had assembled a team of professional studio musicians, including female backup singers, and as lead "singer," Wolfman croaked his way through a variety of styles of music.  His self-titled album was released in 1972 on Wooden Nickel records and produced several singles
including "I Ain't Never Seen a White Man" (penned by Kenny Rogers) which charted on Billboard Singles Charts at #106. Other songs on the album included "Sweet Caroline," "Hey, Wolfman," and "Diggin' on Miss Jones."  His second album on Wooden Nickel records, THROUGH THE AGES was released in 1973. It featured such songs as "The Blob," "One Mint Julep,"  "The Rapper," and "Stagger Lee."  Another Wolfman album, FUN & ROMANCE was released on the Columbia label in 1975. As a novelty, the songs on these albums were fun to listen to, but it convinced the record buying public that Wolfman was a much better disc jockey than singer.  Below you can hear one of the songs from his THROUGH THE AGES album that was released as a single.


LING TING TONG  7" single. 1973

ALL "SOULED" OUT!

Unfortunately, in the process of so much exposure, Wolfman Jack lost some of his hip status and outlaw image.  Being everywhere worked against him.  His credibility was first challenged in the early seventies when he started doing promos for the war effort at time when young people did not respect the U.S. military. Wolfman and rock and roll were a sign of rebellion and doing Public Service Announcements for the Air Force worked to push Wolfman from his cool image.  In addition, many of his fans felt that once he removed the mask and people had a concrete idea of who he was and what he looked like he had lost his edge. Canadian-born Dj, David Hensen, an early fan, was excited once he had the opportunity to actually meet the icon in person, but afterwords he expressed disappointment, "I wanted to keep on believing he was a kind of half-human, half-animal creature."  The illusion had been shattered.  As time went on Wolfman continued to lose credibility with a counter culture that frowned upon his excessive capitalist tendencies.  He spread himself thin by endorsing products, like Clearasil acne medication, making excessive appearances on TV and starring in his own Las Vegas revue.   Bob Smith had transformed the once outrageous, mysterious, and controversial Wolfman character into a tamer personality who could appeal to just about anyone in any market.  He, as some would put it, SOLD OUT.  At one point, the market was over-saturated with products like Wolfman Jack toy guitars and Wolfman Jack doorbells.  It seemed like there was no end to the ways one could make money off the name, Wolfman Jack.

A 1976 sock hop at the Charleston Landing Auditorium sponsored by WCSC-1390
LONG LIVE WOLFMAN JACK

Almost twenty years after his unexpected death in 1995, the Wolfman Jack legacy continues.  To honor his memory, ongoing efforts persist to build a large Wolfman Jack sculpture and a museum in Del Rio,Texas where he first got his start. There's no doubt his legacy is part of rock history.Wolfman Jack was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1996, and into the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1999. . He continues to find new fans in a career that lasted over three decades as an entertainer.   But, the largest proof of his staying power and popularity is the fact that Wolfman Jack's show is in syndication.
Former radio personality, Doug Allen is responsible for editing these shows.  Allen has access to enormous amounts of old XERF, XERB, and Graffiti Gold shows on reel to reel tapes from which he draws upon to make "new" shows.  The recent editions of the programs, that this writer has heard on local Valley radio, do not re-create the Border radio "X" shows and pale in comparison to an original live Wolfman Jack show when he was at his zenith.  And, even though these broadcasts rely on the use of too many of the same over-played hit songs that any average oldies fan already has in their music collection and has probably heard a zillion times, the shows still can be fun to listen to-and more importantly, they help keep the icon's memory alive.

We'll close this article with the Wolfman saying good night and signing off as he did during his reign at XERB.  To set the scene, just imagine its very late at night and some sexy, jazz instrumental music performed on the B3 organ by Johnny Smith or Jimmy McGriff is playing softly as Wolfman in a relaxed personable, low-key, voice says,"We gotta split, baby.  That's it for another, groovy, groovy, night.  It's been really a pleasure keepin' you company along the highways and bi-ways, man.  And, if I helped to keep you awake just a teeny bit, I might have saved your life tonight.  You never know.  For those of you who wanna dig da Wolfman tomorrow night, I'll be back here same stand, man.  Right here, on the big XERB.  50,000-watt clear channel.  10-90 on yer radio dial.  And, I'll always be lookin' for you, baby.  Hope you'll always be lookin' for me, ya understand?  When you love you live...  Listen, ah, for those of you who live in southern California, now...Don't forget, yours truly, Wolfman Jack will be back on the air right here on the big XERB from two until six o'clock in the afternoon.  Each and every afternoon, right here, on XERB.  That's where I'm at, baby.  And, for you folks all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico; God bless ya.  Keep yer ears clean.  BYE!"

Wolfman's grave site is in Belvidere Plantation, Belvidere, North Carolina.  At the base of his tombstone are a few famous Wolfman phrases such as, "Owwwww, Are your little peaches sweet?"


Here's an hour-long, excellent, comprehensive interview with Wolfman from 1995 where he speaks honestly and truthfully about his recollection of his radio career which fills in a lot of the gaps from this post. FYI: Wolfman talks about his participation in American Graffiti @ 22:41

 ~ FIN ~


More of Kip's Blog Pages on Wolfman:
REFLECTION ON WOLFMAN JACK: INTERVIEW WITH PRODUCER LONNIE NAPEIR

THE WORD FROM MARS: INTERVIEW WITH LONGTIME WRITER OF THE WOLFMAN JACK SHOW, FRANK "MARS" COTOLO



BIBLIOGRAPHY:
  • Baxter, John.  Mythmaker: The Life and Times of George Lucas.  Avon Books, Inc. New York. 1999.
  • Cuddon, Sarah (3/21/2008). What Makes Wolfman Great.  BBC News Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7307738.stm.
  • Dallas, Karl Dallas. Wolfman Jack - The 1980 Interview. Karl Dallas Day Blog. http://karldallasday.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/wolfman-jack-the-1980-interview/ Retrieved 1/11/2014
  • Fowler, Gene and Bill Crawford. Border Radio.  Limelight Editions, New York. 1987, 1990.
  • Memories of XERB. Discussion Boards.  Radio Discussions.com. First post: /10/05/2006. Retrieved 3/20/2013
  • Taylor, Chuck.  (2005). Wolfman Jack is Back.  AllBusiness.com
  • Tickell, Paul. November 7th, 1981. New Musical Express p.11. Website Radio Caroline Story-the 80s. <http://www.offshoreechos.com/Caroline%2080/Press%20Reports-17.htm>  Retrieved 12/1/2010.
  • Tiegel, Eliot. XERB Sharpens R&B Format. Billboard Magazine. January 28, 1967. 
  • Twin Cities Radio Timeline.  St. Louis Park Historical Society website: <http://www.slphistory.org/history/radio.asp>   Retrieved 10/6/2010.
  • Tyler, Tim.  Wolfman Jack Finally Shows his Face. Creem Magazine. August 1972.
  • "The Making of American Graffiti." (Supplementary documentary by Laurent Bouzereau). American Graffiti. Dir. George Lucas. DVD. Universal Studios, 1973; dist. Universal Home Video, Inc., 1998.
  • Wolfman Jack and Byron Laursen.  Have Mercy! Confessions of the Original Rock 'n' Roll Animal. Warner Books, New York 1995.
  • Wolfman Jack and the Border Blasters. Rick Everett. CD.  Air-Check Factory.com. 2002.
  • XERB 1970.  Comments page. Reel Top 40 Radio Repository.   First post: 4/18/2001.  Retrieved 3/20/2013.  http://www.reelradio.com/comment/comment.cgi?wmxerb70~Wolfman+Jack,+XERB,+1970~../pf/index.html. 
Additional NOTES:

"Airplay, the Rise & Fall of Rock Radio" DVD (2008)  [Photograph] composite photo of Wolfman in front of X station circa 1964.

"Rock 'N' Roll Invaders, The AM Radio DJ's" DVD (1998) Winstar Home Entertainment. [Photograph] Young Bob Smith in studio.

2 comments:

  1. Very nice Mark. High quality as usual.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kip/Mark,

    Great, great, great article. Through my work as executive director at the Bay Area Radio Museum & Hall of Fame -- located in the same building that Wolfman's scenes in Graffiti were filmed -- I've had the transcendent experience of sitting behind the console in that studio countless times.

    American Graffiti is by far my favorite movie of all time, and Wolfman is by far my favorite radio personality of all time.

    I have put together a tribute to Wolfman's years at XERB, including many of his early airchecks, at:

    http://www.xerbradio.com/

    I'm also programming Modesto's KMPH Graffiti Gold Radio (840 AM) which plays Rock'n'Roll and R&B from the 1950s and 1960s as a living tribute to the city's role in American Graffiti:

    http://www.GraffitiGoldRadio.com/

    Thanks for all of your amazing work on this blog!

    D.J.

    ReplyDelete