Tuesday, October 1, 2013

THE WORD FROM MARS: WRITER FOR WOLFMAN JACK SPEAKS OUT, PT. I

On the air at KKJO St. Joseph, Missouri, 105.5 FM.

Hey all you homies, dudes, brahs, big daddies, hepcats, and sistas!  In this post Frank “Mars” Cotolo talks with me about the legendary DJ and American Graffiti star, Wolfman Jack.  Mars was co-host and writer for The Wolfman Jack Show.  You'll enjoy this extensive interview as Mars & I explore the Wolfman and the time they shared together.  Mars was extremely gracious to spend close to an hour over the phone sharing stories about the Wolfman.  In fact, our conversation was so lengthy that I've decided to post it in two parts in order to share it in its entirety.  One thing rang out loud and clear as he spoke in a rapid fire Brooklyn accent, and that was the love and affection he had for the legend and the deep friendship that they shared both on the air and off.

Before we jump into the interview, let me share a little bit of history about "Mar's.” There's more to the man, Frank "Mars" Cotolo than just writing jokes He began composing music almost as soon as he learned to play the guitar. In the 1960's he played in the same band for ten years and in the later part of the decade he teamed up with a lyricist and writer and wrote over 200 songs including an off Broadway play. He had been working as a joke writer for disc jockeys when he left New York for Hollywood in 1978 and answered a generic ad looking for a writer for an anonymous radio personality who turned out to be Wolfman Jack.  This began an 11yr-long, full-time working relationship with the worlds’ greatest DJ.  He was Wolman’s full-time writer for radio, TV, and personal appearances.  Frank wrote Wolman’s daily shows for the Armed Forces Radio & Television Service (AFRTS) as well as the nostalgic oldies, Graffiti Gold show.  Frank also played Wolman’s side-kick, "Mars"  (a nickname given to him by the Wolfman) on the Graffiti Gold radio program.
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Wolfman & Frank "Mars" Cotolo at KRLA, (1110 AM), studios, Pasadena, CA.   circa 5/27/1985

KIP:  I was surprised to learn that you weren’t that familiar with Wolfman when you started working for him.

FRANK: Not at all. Right. [laughs]  That was a good thing. I brought some really fresh things to his show.  I didn’t have that ass-kissing, worship approach like so many others did.  I came fresh.  I began to bring to the table lots of things… forms of stuff that were different and expanded the character with jokes and bits and all sorts of stuff.  Yeah, we really hit it off.  I came from Brooklyn, he grew up in Brooklyn.  So, it was actually good because I wasn’t in awe.  I had heard him on the radio a little bit when he was originally on WNBC (660-AM) in Brooklyn, [1973] and then I was with him when he went back to WNBC in the ‘80s.  WNBC had put together the Dream Team with Howard Stern, Soupy Sales, Don Imus, and Wolfman Jack, [circa 1983]. You might remember that. So, we did that.  Some of it was on tape, some of it live.  But, no, originally I wasn’t that familiar with him and I think it served us both well. I think he liked it too ‘cause I wasn’t an ass-kisser [laughs].

On the air at WNBC  circa 1973
 KIP:  Did you work with another writer?

FRANK: Before I met him, this other guy and I had a joke service out of New York (NY). We used to sell published jokes to shock jocks.  They used to buy our jokes ‘cause you could buy them exclusively in that market.  There were a bunch of joke sheets out there. We used to write for DJs like Gary Owens [Laugh In, Hee-Haw]. We moved out to LA to work.  Eventually, he had to go back to NY, and I stuck around and wound up getting the job.

KIP:    Where did he record his shows when you worked for him?

FRANK: We had half a floor in the famous, Taft building on Hollywood and Vine [Los Angeles, CA] and one of the rooms was a recording studio. We did all the Graffiti Gold shows there.  I think it’s the show that’s been syndicated and broadcasts now. It’s been cut up. They screwed it up - the series when they put it on satellite radio.  They digitalized a lot of ‘em. The people knew the technology but they didn’t know the flow of Wolfman and those shows when first aired on satellite radio sounded terrible. They just didn’t have his uh, brand.  But, yeah we did everything in that little studio.  Ya know the other guy you want to talk to is Lonnie Napier [Wolfman’s producer].

KIP:   Yes, I talked with him recently.  [Look for that conversation in an upcoming post!]

FRANK:  There ya go!  Lonnie and I are still close friends.


With Beach Boys, Brian Wislon & Mike Love. "Hard to tell who was more out of it, Brian or Mike ... da Woof was grounded, believe me," says Cotolo.

KIP:  How much was written and how much was Wolfman improvising over the air?

FRANK:  An awful lot of it was written but, BUT, we never did it word-for-word and we improvised so much. He was so great with me in that he made me, Mars part of the show.  I made up some characters and stuff and he really gave me a lot of microphone time. I think I’m the only person he gave that much mic time. So I became not just his straight man but I became another personality on there.  Eventually we knew each other so well that I’d give him stuff to say and he’d know how to work it and put himself into it.  The material was so good, I’m not just saying that to pat myself in the back, but I really learned his voice, I knew the character and made the character go in all sorts of different directions and we were so close in that creative process, that he added a lot to it. 

As he appeared on a TV episode of Battlestar Galacta  circa 1980
It’s hard to say that I just wrote it, even though I wrote almost everything. Even when we just sat back and just did energy lines, we called ‘em, energy lines, down lines, joke lines, ya know.  It was a tremendous amount that I used to write.  It was an amazing amount of material that I used to write every week, I don’t even know how I did it.   And, so he really got into it, ya know.  He threw out what he didn’t want and took what he did and we gave him some things, which went over, and some things didn’t - just like anything else.  He added so much.  I couldn’t give those jokes to anyone else. They were made for that character.  So he knew how to add and take away.

KIP:  He had a certain rhythm to his patter.  I always loved the colorful phrases and nonsensical words he’d use for instance, Oh my, we just gonna boogie along w/ plenty of zoom tongues & zowie & a whooole lotta zing!”

FRANK:  Yeah, those were the energy lines and we used to make them up all the time.  So many times I’d just take them to absurd proportions.  He used to like that.  The great thing about him and him and the character was he was so into… He WAS the Wolfman, no doubt about it but I came along, he was the Wolfman and he was able to PLAY the Wolfman.  He made fun of himself he started to have fun with the character, a lot more fun than in the past when he was just the Wolfman saying this little naughty stuff and everything. That’s the other thing we got away with murder before shock jock stuff.  But we were thrown off stations for doing things that you can’t imagine would be considered bad today.  Yeah, we REALLY pushed the envelope.  He opened the door - not me, but he allowed me to write stuff, he opened the door for all that shock jock radio stuff. And, a lot of the things I’m talking about, these little fake commercials he did that were very cleverly written, they weren’t done like Stern did, ya know he took it in a whole different direction. But Wolf did that stuff and we got in trouble lots of times. The thing is, that really made all these other jocks feel like they could push the envelope. We just did really absolutely very clever stuff and he pulled it off wonderfully.

Wolfman Jack & Mars: Rare, PERVO THE CLOWN skit.

KIP:  I wish I could hear some of that stuff. [A good example of Mar's work with Wolfman on the Graffiti Gold show can be heard in the extremely rare recording of the PERVO THE CLOWN skit above.  "Pervo" was a featured skit that lasted exactly 3 shows before it was banned by the networks.

FRANK:  If you want to hear some of skits we did on the Graffiti Gold shows you should talk to Doug [Allen].  He's got tons of little digital bits with Wolfman.  He might even have some of the so-called dirty controversial stuff.  I know he has that. He's been archiving and digitalizing a lot of it.   So, yeah if you want to hear some of that stuff, contact him.

 KIP:  Does Doug make the new Wolfman Jack shows for syndication?

FRANK: I don’t know if he’s doing those, I really haven’t heard them.  If they’re just digitalized old Graffiti shows exactly as we programmed the way we had done them back then, then they’re probably pretty good but if they changed them, like they were screwing around with them on Sirius when they did at the beginning then…but I don’t know I’d talk to Doug.  He’s on Facebook too so you could talk to him on there and get his number.  He’s always up for talking about that stuff.  There’s a whole group, a community of people out there who trade snippets of shows and things. So, yeah you could probably get a lot of things from him. 

KIP:  I do have a lot of air checks but most of them are XERB shows, which were recorded before you worked with him.
Trade ad for Wolfman's radio show.  circa 1975
FRANK: Speaking of X stations, when I worked for Wolf we did XTRA-AM (69 XTRA Gold). We did that. That was later on [circa 1987].  The studio was in San Diego, [California] Later he put a studio in his house so he didn’t have to go to San Diego. But, XTRA was a Mexican station [broadcasting from Rosarita Beach]. Today, I think it’s a sports station.  What XTRA would do is they would shoot the signal from San Diego down into Mexico and then Mexico, would shoot it back [into the United States.] So they were technically a Mexican station. 

KIP:   Wasn’t that illegal to do that?

FRANK: Well, [Laughs] I don’t know… it was a regular business.  But, I don’t think it was illegal. You mention, illegal, that reminds me, there’s some great stories, such as when we went to England to reboot this thing called Radio Caroline. There’s this film called Pirate Radio, which goes into the Radio Caroline thing.  Anyway, we went to England and we were supposed to get our ship and go to the North Sea and do radio shows from there.  We had a great old time in England trying to get this thing going.  It was all secret it was clandestine, ya know, set up.  It was pirate radio, it was not allowed.  It had to be broadcast outside, in international waters.  We were suppose to go…It’s a long story its pretty darn good story no one ever really wrote or knows about it.  So, THAT was illegal, though.  But, no the XTRA thing was not illegal at all.    Once in awhile we went down to Mexico and did stuff from there, [we were] just all over the place.

On the air at XTRA, Rosarita Beach, Mexico/San Diego, CA. (l-r) Frank "Mars" Cotolo, Wolfman, Hank Ballard, & producer, Lonnie Napier.   Photo: Nancy Clendaniel

KIP:  What did you do in Mexico?

FRANK:   Well, we went to the XTRA station. We went to his station down there and recorded some live stuff and did an actual show down there.

KIP:   Was that the old XERB transmitter sight?

FRANK: It was. You’re right.  XTRA we did in San Diego. We never went to any studio in Mexico for that station. We went to XERF together onetime. We went down there and did some kind of show from the old studios.  But we didn’t go down there much. 

KIP:  When you were at XERF did they show you the bullet holes that exist from the time Wolfman was shot at when he supposedly tried to take over the station from armed banditos?

FRANK: Oh, yeah, they showed me what were supposed to be bullet holes. I don’t know. I don’t know the story.  I heard it a couple of different ways. There’s an old saying in journalism that goes, “If the legend is more exciting then the truth-print the legend.”  I can’t verify.  I have no idea what was true and what didn’t happen.  I loved his story.  I like to believe that’s what happened, ya know, [laughs]. I think it’s great. I do know that the XERF transmitter was 250,000 watts and was unbelievable.  They would never allow a transmitter like that in the United States. When that thing was on full power there was so much energy that birds would drop dead just flying near it. So, many great stories, but yeah so, that’s XERF.


Did you know Wolfman auditioned for a part in the Godfather film?  Learn more about that and lots more fascinating anecdotes about Wolfman Jack & Frank "Mars" Cotolo in THE WORD FROM MARS: WRITER FOR WOLFMAN JACK SPEAKS OUT, PART 2 coming soon!

✌  END OF PART 1  ✌
Go to PART 2

Related LINKS to Mars:

NOTES:
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·         Clendaniel, Nancy. [Photo of Wolfman & Mars @ KRLA 1985.] Fine Art web site. http://nancy-clendaniel.artistwebsites.com/

·         Photo of Wolfman @ KKJO. Website: http://www.pbase.com/deanej/kkjo

·         Radio Caroline info: http://www.offshoreechos.com/Caroline%2080/accueil80.php?id=1



2 comments:

  1. Hey there! Please add my photo credit to the above image showing Wolf, Mars and Lonnie with Hank Ballard. Thanks! Nancy Clendaniel, www.NancyClendaniel.com

    ReplyDelete