Thursday, October 17, 2013

THE WORD FROM MARS: WRITER FOR WOLFMAN JACK SPEAKS OUT, PT. 2

Wolfman live @ the KRLA studios in Burbank, CA  circa 5/27/1985

Welcome back to Kip Pullman's American Graffiti Blog.  We're in full swing of October, the month of HOWL-O-WEEN!  What could be more festive than celebrating with Wolfman?  Wolfman Jack-to be exact!  So, in this invaluable installment we carry on with Part 2 of my exclusive unabridged interview with Wolfman Jack's long-time writer, Frank "Mars" Cotolo.  You can read the first part here: PART 1.  You can also read my comprehensive Wolfman Jack history here:  EN EL AIRE, PT. I  & EN EL AIRE , PT II.   I've put up several links to Mars on the web at the bottom of thIs post.  Now, to recap: During his full-time, 11-year tenure (1978-89) with the hairy one, Mars wrote and particpated in every 6-hour Wolfman Jack Graffiti Gold Show and 1-hr. daily show for the AFRTN (Armed Forces Radio & Televison Network.) In addition, he also wrote for a Japanese version of The Wolfman Jack Radio Show and produced a syndicated 3-hr Wolfman Jack Disco Show. Mars went on the road making 100s of personal appearances with Wolfman too. So if anyone knows the man known as Wolfman Jack-it's Mars!  Prepare yourselve(s) now, by cracking open a brew or brewing a cup of tea, then sit your happy Halloweend-ass down and dig into this rama jama as we continue with Mars Cotolo speaking on Wolfman (as opposed to Wolfman speaking from Mars):
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Rare SHERLOCK HOLMES PARODY by Wolfman Jack & Mars Cotolo

KIP:  Earlier you mentioned that you guys got away with a lot of risqué stuff over the radio but I was wondering, did he ever feel restricted by what he could or couldn’t say?  After he’d left XERB he told Creem Magazine that he couldn’t use phrases like “How’s your Boogaloo?” or ask a female caller if her little peaches are sweet? 

Wolfman & Frank "Mars" Cotolo hard at work
FRANK:  Yeah, I mean how timid is that?  Like I said, I gave him stuff to do and a lot of it we got away with doing.  But, he was always willing to go as far as he possibly could. And, like I said, we did lose a couple of stations because of the things we did.  It was really, ya know, it wasn’t just junky throw out stuff.  We did things like movie Coming Attractions parodies that were produced well. Lonnie Napier [Engineer & Producer] was really great.  He did so much especially the movie things that we did.  Because we would do movie trailers, ya know, Wolfman Jack was James Bond, or Wolfman Jack was in the Pink Panther.  We would even mock or make fun of things that would really happen because he was a good actor.  When he was playing the Inspector in the Pink Panther parody, we would go “Ah, c’mon Wolfman!”  So, we would make fun of Wolfman but some of that stuff we really pushed it.  I can tell you lines and things he did that got us in lots of trouble in doing a bunch of stuff.  He wanted to be right on the edge.  He never said “Man, it would be so great if I could just say, “Fuck You!” No, that wasn’t him.  He liked flirting with the disaster of it.  It was disaster, you couldn’t do certain things, and we’d get thrown off the air and censored in market syndication because we did whatever it was we did. He, Bob liked being on the edge.  He was an on the edge guy.  He always liked being on the edge. He liked pushing everything he possibly could.  We did shows together, I was in a band with him.  We toured Southern California, I mean we did so much together creatively.  It was terrific.  And, of course we went to Europe together, blah, blah, blah…a whole bunch of stuff.

KIP:  When Wolfman was taping a 4-hour or 6-hour daily show for syndication did he only record the intros for songs and then skip or fast forward over the music and then record the outros?  Would a 6-hour show take 6 hours to make or produce?
A fan captured pic of Wolfman in the early-1970s.

FRANK:  No. But, he would also do stuff; if you listen to those Graffiti Gold things, you can hear him in the background; he’s really there as the songs are playing.  He used to back up the beat by drumming on a telephone book.  I started helping him ‘cause he didn’t want to do it anymore.  We had two telephone books, I used to beat the telephone book and he sang over it and we did all sorts of stuff.  So, it was quite a mixture.  He did voice tracks and stuff too.  And, then of course we did a live gig - we were on KRLA.  Five nights a week we did it live unless he was out of town, then they played tapes.  And, then I ran the show for him when we went to Nashville.  I moved to Tennessee to run the show for him.  I wrote and produced Wolfman’s country music show over the TNN radio network [circa 1989]. There was a live show from the Grand Ole Opry Hotel and then when he wasn’t there I would run the show at night as if he was really there.  You see, he created this… [long pause] process of being able to make people think he was live even when he wasn’t live. Only a certain amount of people knew how to run the show. Lonnie knew how to run the show; I knew how to run the show. We could do everything and people would never have a clue that he wasn’t there.
 
KIP:   When he wasn’t there did you insert wolf howls over the music or insert recordings of his voice shouting exclamations such as, “Aw, right baby!”  Things like that?  

FRANK:  Yeah, sometimes, yeah when he wasn’t there.  But, it’s very hard for anybody to pick out which ones when he was there, and when he wasn’t there.  Because, we had it down to a science.  Because we would even take phone calls when he wasn’t there.

KIP:   How did you do that?

FRANK: Well, we had any number of statements by him pre-recorded.  When you’re on the phone with somebody we could just run ‘em, [imitating Wolfman] “Hey, where you callin’ from?”  [Imitating caller]  “I’m down in Fresno.”  Ya know, we’d just stick it in there and they’d answer.  You learn how to do it.  And then when it was time to go you’d just play, [imitating Wolfman] “Bye!”  [Laughs]  And, they’d think they’d talked to the Wolfman.

KIP:  Oh my God.  That’s amazing.

FRANK:  We had it down.  The character.  The Wolfman.  He was everything, he was real, he was flesh and, in one day he could be in five different places, and he didn’t have a double like Sadaam Hussein.  He really had the character…a whole cottage industry.

KIP:   People who weren’t around in the 1970s or ‘80s might have a hard time grasping just how famous Wolfman Jack really was.  As he says in the film, American Graffiti, “The Wolfman was everywhere!”  He was on radio, TV, movies, magazine covers, etc.  A survey at the time listed him as the third most popular celebrity in the United States or maybe the world.  I think boxer, Mohammad Ali and The Tonight Show host, Johnny Carson were number one and two, respectively.

FRANK:  Yeah, that particular survey was used to measure the recognizable popularity of celebrities around the world. Yeah, I think that was the exact order.  It got him so much work.

Wolfman &  Blues legend, B.B. King enjoy a moment on The Midnight Special.
KIP:   I think I’d heard you once say in another interview that surveys like that helped him but also hurt him.

FRANK:  Well, yeah everything helped him make a living being Wolfman Jack. When he did The Midnight Special [late-night TV concert series that ran from 1973-81] everyone knew, Wolfman Jack.  He had more radio stations because he was on the TV.  He would generate more business because of all the stuff. Of course, it was so much business that’s why he had to create certain ways of being in five places at once.  Nobody could do that.  There was no other Wolfman Jack. So, we had to do that.  No, everything helped him. Once he came out… I mean he never wanted to come out. Did you read his book?

KIP:   Oh, yeah. I have a signed autograph copy of his biography.

FRANK:  I mean, he did not want to come out.  He wanted to be that guy down there [in Mexico].  When he started coming out he had all sorts of fake make-up and he acted rude and everything ‘cause he just wanted to be that character.  He never wanted to come out; he just came out and became publicly, Wolfman Jack.  I mean, I never called him by his birth name, Bob Smith or anything.  He hated that name.  Unless you were a really, really close friend.  People would try and be cool, “Hey, Bob, how ya doin’!” [Imitating the voice of a fan.]  He wouldn’t even look at them. It was like invading his privacy.  To me he was, “Woof.”  Not even, “Wolf,” but just, “Woof.”  But, ah, once the Wolfman character came out, that was it.  He couldn’t be anything else. It was hard to be whatever was left of Bob Smith. Ya know, at XERF he sold all the airtime.  During the day he was like a regular businessman and then he went and did his thing over the radio.  In fact, the thing about American Graffiti that’s really weird is that he probably didn’t really look like that, in the year 1962 that was supposed to be happening [laughs].  Ya know, he put Wolfman Jack in there.  But, he probably did not have that look that he had in the movie with a goatee and slicked back hair.  He was thinner, he didn’t have the beard - he was different.

KIP:   I know he didn’t have a beard in 1962, the year the film takes place.

FRANK:  That’s what I mean.  He created this character and the character took him over.  That kind of exposure just helped him.  It never hurt him.  The only way it hurt him is that he wanted to do some serious acting and it prevented him from getting certain parts in movies.  So, of course that hurt him.  He was cursed in a way with being “Wolfman Jack.”

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The thing about American Graffiti that’s really weird is that he didn’t really look like that in the year that was supposed to be happening.
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KIP:  Speaking of movies, I heard he tried out for a part in one of Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary Godfather films?

FRANK: Yeah, he did.  Because remember, Coppola did American Graffiti.

KIP:  Right, Coppola was the Executive Producer for American Graffiti.

At Knott's Berry Farm  circa 1976
FRANK: He auditioned to be one of the bad guys.  He was all set to shave if he got the part, but Coppola didn’t go with him.  There was so much trouble with that movie anyway. I went with him on so many different movie cameos, we did TV shows together, and I’m talking about drama stuff and movies and everything.  I even wrote some stuff for him in movies. He was a really good actor, [but,] he was just branded, “Wolfman Jack” and there was no way to get him out of that. But we used to run lines together; we did a lot of work together in terms of acting and stuff.  I was even with him once in a play we did together, “Shock and Rock Review.”  Every year he used to play at Knott’s Berry Farm [California amusement park.] One year he put me in the show, I was this Dracula guy who flew around.  I co-wrote the show with a guy name Brad who was a writer that hired me in the beginning because he had two writers in the beginning.  Anyways, Wolfman was a really good actor and he could have done a lot more but it was really tough.


KIP:  Wolfman Jack  got stereotyped.

FRANK: Yeah, it happens with so many actors, they get known for one part.  It’s the same thing we hit.  Everyone was just like, “Hey, looks there’s Wolfman Jack!”  That’s the end of it.  So, he had considered shaving and being completely made-up and doing something other than Wolfman Jack.  He did a couple of parts where he wasn’t Wolfman Jack.  He was in ah; you must have seen uh, did you see, “Mortuary Academy?”

KIP:  No, I didn’t see that but I did see him in “Motel Hell,” which is one of those late-night horror TV classics.  I like his part in that.

FRANK: I was there every moment.  I even wrote a scene for him but they took it out, they pulled it from the movie.  He didn’t play himself.

KIP:   Right, he portrayed a kind of a seedy Evangelic Preacher. Probably similar to those that bought air time on his border blaster, XERB, back in the day.

FRANK:  Right, and they cut a lot of stuff out.  He had a lot more stuff, a lot more scenes and everything.  But, like I said, he was really a good actor and just did not get a shot to do anything else.  It’s kind of sad.

Wolfman as Rev. Billy in the1980, B-horror flick, Motel Hell.
 
KIP:  Wolfman is often thought of as a party animal.  Did he like to party excessively?  He was kind of plump and chain-smoked cigarettes, did you ever think that behavior might be putting his health in jeopardy?  Did you ever think, "He needs to slow down?"

By the mid-'80s, Wolfman had his own cartoon show!
FRANK:  Well, yes!  I mean, we were all in jeopardy.  We pushed.  When he went out on the road it wasn’t like a tour.  The Rolling Stones do a tour.  They travel a certain way from place to place in a line.  Wolfman, on the other hand, would have five gigs out of town and they would all be in different places.  They were just jobs that came in and we took them.  For instance we’d get on a plane in Los Angeles and have to go to Seattle, WA.  We’d go to Seattle and then the next gig we would fly clear across the country  to Philadelphia, PA.  Then, we’d have to come back to Montana and then go down to Florida.  Ya know, you’d change planes, we’d get into these little planes, and he called them “puddle jumpers.”  We used to have to take little planes, big planes, big jets, little jets…he hated it.  The point I’m trying to make here is that you change time, time zones change, planes change, and it’s not a healthy way to make a living.  We all smoked.  Ya know, we smoked our heads off.  We smoked our heads off, here and there.  We’d do a lot of things.  And, then…sleep!  [Laughs.]  It’s tough.  None of it is healthy.  And, you don’t eat right when you’re on the road.  And, God knows, we didn’t eat right.  I mean, you saw his weight.  He just ate.  We just ate.  What’re you going to do?  You go into a little butt-fuck town…”Oh, we gotta have pork rinds!”  So, it’s tough.

KIP:   Yea, I can relate somewhat.  I used to tour around a bit with a band and I know it’s just not a very healthy life style.

FRANK:  Right, guys like The Rolling Stones always get the top food, the best hotels; they can get anything they want.  We were just going from hotel to hotel and we were just traveling… nobody would travel like that.  You wouldn’t say, “Let’s plan a tour of the United States: We’ll start in Miami then we’ll go to Seattle, then we’ll come back and go to Philadelphia, I mean, fuck, it’s just ridiculous!

KIP:   Zigzagging all over the States.

FRANK:  It’s horrible.  You sleep on the plane, you don’t sleep on the plane, you get off, you gotta run for a plane, you go to a hotel, you gotta go to a show, you go back to the hotel, then you have to get back on the plane.  It’s really…           

KIP:   It’s crazy.

FRANK: It’s really a strain.


KIP:  I guess the strain become tiresome because in about 1989 you stopped working full-time with him to pursue other adventures.  But, you kept in touch.

 FRANK:  Oh, absolutely.  I was still writing for him when I moved and he’d come over the house to visit.  We had a working relationship until he died.  About two weeks before he died [of a heart-attack] he called me up and asked me to come to New York because they were getting together a lot of old disc jockeys from WNBC and some other east coast stations  He said, “I’m doing this thing and I don’t want to do it without you.  You have to be there.”  It was very strange.  I just had this funny feeling that I HAVE to go.  We hadn’t seen each other in a long time and it turned out to be the last time we would ever be together.  It’s one of the decisions in my life that I’ll never forget, because I can imagine what it would be like now if I’d said, “Why didn’t I go?”  But, I did go and we had a blast.  We had a great time.  It was so much fun and it was a great way for us to go out.  After he died we went down to North Carolina. The whole gang got together there for his funeral.  We helped do the press and interviews and things.

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 About two weeks before he died he called me up and asked me to come to NY.   I just had this funny feeling that I HAVE to go.
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He made one of his last TV appearances on the sit-com, MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, 1995.

 KIP:   It's been 18 years since his passing.  When you look back on your time spent with Wolfman what really sticks with you or is really memorable?

FRANK: Yeah, the laughing.  The amount we did to entertain other people was one thing but the stuff we did personally, and the laughs we had together.  It was so real, it was so fun.  We were really intimate in that respect.  I’d say things to him that I’d never say to anyone else and he’d say things to me and we would just… ya know, as difficult as he could be, doing all the work we did.  No matter how stressed things could get, I could always find a way to lighten it up a bit and make him laugh.  The laughing and stuff we did:  I’ll just never forget that, how much we laughed… at the expense of one another and everything, ya know?  It put us in a mood that made us perform better in a lot of ways.  It’s undocumented, it’s all running in my head all this laughter and it comes up whenever people ask me about him.  The laughing, fun, and real camaraderie stuff.  That just won’t leave me.  You just don’t get that kind of close with many people.


KIP:   Sounds like you had an amazing relationship.  You guys were really close.

FRANK:  Yeah, it was a real special relationship.  It’s like I said earlier, it was real.  I didn’t enter it, and he didn’t enter it with... we didn’t enter it with any bias at all.  It was different.  I mean, people would just want to kiss his ass.  They were just, "Ahhh!"  I mean and here it was real, we were genuine, it was genuine and he liked that because he didn’t get that anywhere else except from maybe Lonnie Napier [engineer & producer.] He knew Lonnie since he was a kid.  He used to travel a lot more with him than I did. And, the three of us, when we were all out together, I mean, oh my God that was so fun!

~ FINE ~

This page is exclusive content. No unauthorized reprinting, republishing or other use without prior authorization or proper referencing. © 2013 by Mark Groesbeck.

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  • The written works of Frank "Mars" Cotolo can be purchased at both Lulu.com and Blurb.com
  • Two hours of Cotolo, uncut. Thursdays on Mediaworks' Canadian station, SRN One



"Say, GOODBYE MARS!"
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