IF YOU'VE READ MY "ABOUT JONNIE KING" PAGE, you know that, since I was a tiny tot in my crib, music & radio have been an integral part of my life. And that includes all types and styles of music.
My earliest memories were spawned from the tail-end of the Big Band Era, and the vocalists that were featured, at first with the BB's and later as solo artists: Sinatra, Doris Day, Bing Crosby, Jo Stafford, Vaughan Monroe, Dick Haymes, et al. Then later came Frankie Laine, Kay Starr, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, The Four Aces, Rosie Clooney, Eddie Fisher, The Four Lads, Joni James, and their contemporaries.
NOW, the radio stations that I listened to here in St. Louis for music in those early days were KWK, WIL, and, KXOK. But sometime in about the 7th or 8th Grade of school, some buddies of mine and myself discovered two local stations that played Rhythm & Blues.: KXLW & KATZ. That was truly an "eye opener" ! That's when I was first introduced to Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters, The Penquins, The Dells, The Moonglows, Fats Domino, La Verne Baker, Little Richard, Big Joe Turner, Howling Wolf, Ruth Brown, Ivory Joe Hunter, The Five Satins, and, of course, St. Louis' own: Chuck Berry. That was the turning point...the instant that my tastes in music were not only broadend,, but took on a new dimension altogether.
LISTENING TO THE MUSIC was one thing, but the interaction (or, lack of same) by the Disk Jockeys at the time was also what I listened for, because wanting to "be on the Radio" is something that I had wanted to do since my first visit -at the age of eight - to KXLW's studios.
The St. Louis Disk Jockeys like Ed Bonner, Gil Newsome, Ed Wilson, Ray Manning, Peter Martin, et al, had given me my early influences of what DJ's did.
Later, Spider Burke, Dave Dixon, Amos Doston, George (Mr. G.) Logan, E. Rodney (The Mad Lad) Jones, and others had given me a taste of R&B on the local stations KXLW & KATZ, as to what the R&B personalities did. How they handled their shows.
Then came the ground-breaking 1955 film "Black Board Jungle" which featured as its Main Title Theme "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley & The Comets, and that was one of the "rocket launches" that catapulted Rock & Roll Music into the National spotlight ! But wait ! It didn't even have a "name" yet...that term wasn't being used. If you look at the now-seemingly-antiquated label on any of Bill Haley's early Decca recordings you will see this notation "Fox Trot with Vocal". So it was up to someone, somewhere to give this new style of music a name. Enter Alan Freed.
ALAN FREED'S CAREER IN BROADCASTING began innocently enough at WKBN Radio in Youngstown, Ohio, as a newscater & sports announcer. Later, as a Disc Jockey he obtained major notoriety at WJW in Cleveland* (where he became a Legend !), and, finally hit his full-stride at WINS Radio in New York...where he took "The Big Apple" by storm !
Freed's love of all types of music, especially Rhythm & Blues, is what made him unique and different...he wasn't afraid to expose his audience to the sounds of Tony Allen, Sonny Knight, The Nutmegs, The Jacks, The Robins, Lee Andrews & The Hearts, Otis Williams, and all of the other iconic R&B artists of the day. And his listeners loved him for it...although sometimes his superiors at the stations questioned his choices.
So, Alan Freed wanted to let his playlist & format blend into mass acceptance by taking the, up-till-then stigma of "R&B" records & artists, up to the next level...that's when he coined the term "Rock & Roll". Now, if you've done your research, that phrase had been used at times before, but Freed hammered it into public awareness by being in the "right place, at the right time". He thus became "Mr. Rock & Roll" !
I first became aware of him with his syndicated Saturday Night "Rock & Roll Party" which was aired in the St.Louis Market, and, I believe, sponsored by the Falstaff Brewery. Then came the movies in which he either starred in or was featured: "Rock Around The Clock", "Rock, Rock, Rock", "Mister Rock & Roll", "Don't Knock The Rock", and, "Go, Johnny Go !". It was then you could put "a face to the voice" and see him in action. And, yes, he was SO great in his prime, so animated, so involved and caring with all of the groups & artists that he both aired on his radio show and featured in his films, that to me ALAN FREED was "Mr. Rock & Roll".
He was the main influence, along with the St. Louis R&B stations and DJ's that I mentioned, in my lifelong appreciation of Rhythm & Blues...to go along with my basic love of "Rock & Roll", as well as the early-childhood memories of those songs and singers I heard as far back as my days in the crib. His influence on my wanting to be in radio preceeded the further solidification of that thought that would come a few years later with Dick Clark. But, Alan Freed got there first.
MY HUMBLE THANKS TO YOU, Mr. Freed, for blazing a trail that others would eventually follow. And for giving me a better understanding, in my formative years, of how Rhythm & Blues, Country, and, all other forms of various genres, could blend themselves into a form of music that, as Danny & The Juniors proudly stated "...will never die": ROCK & ROLL !
"The Alan Freed Story: The Early Years Of Rock & Roll", by John A. Jackson. Great book, and you can read my Complete Review of it if you go to "The Library" by Clicking-On-Right-Here !
ALSO, In 1978, a feature film "American Hot Wax" , a fictional account of the later-part of Freed's career was released, and, there was a 1999 made-for-tv film entitled "Mr. Rock & Roll: The Alan Freed Story", based on John A. Jackson's book. Both of these, along with the above mentioned feature films starring Freed, are available for downloading, or, on DVD's from Amazon or other sources. In the early-feature films from the 50's you can "turn the clock back" to the dawn of the "Golden Age of Rock & Roll", and see Alan Freed in-action.
*PS: Now maybe you know why the "Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame" is located in Cleveland !