Sunday, October 30, 2016

The night the Hell's Angels went Trick or Treating

Here's a Halloween story from my sordid disc jockey past. 

1971 and I was doing weeekends at KERN in Bakersfield. I was five at the time. (All TV writers older than twenty who hope to work lie about their age.)  The station was this shack out in the middle of nowhere. And since Bakersfield itself is in the middle of nowhere, the station was really REALLY in the middle of nowhere.

It was my second week. I was holding down the coveted Saturday 6-midnight shift. At about 10:00 the doorbell rang. Who would be coming to call at this hour? Maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses work late in this town. I put a record on and like an idiot went to the front lobby and opened the door.

There was a full gang of Hell Angels – probably thirty of the scariest leather clad, chain wielding, tattoo sporting (before it was fashionable), chopper riding, engine revving, ass kicking (and in my mind, Jew hating) dudes you’ve ever seen. And their girlfriends who could beat the shit out of me.

So I was Jello in a windstorm. Picture Ralph Kramden as the “Chef of the Future”. “Hummina hummina hummina” The leader (at least I thought he was the leader. I didn’t ask for ID.), growled, “You the fucking guy on the radio?”

“Hummina hummina”.

“What?”

“HUMMINA hummina hummina.”

I was thinking, “What offensive thing did I say that is going to get me killed?” And “This will be a good indication of how many people are actually listening to KERN. Let’s see how long it takes for someone to discover my body."

Mr. Leader of the Pack said, “Do you have Sweet Cream Ladies?” (A late 60s moderate hit by the Box Tops)

A request? That’s why they’re there? To make a song request?

Somewhat relieved I mumble “Sure.”

He signaled to the others and they roared off to terrorize someone else. I locked the door, checked my underwear, and went to the record library PRAYING that we had a copy in there.

There is a God! They had it.

I ran back to the studio and cued it up. It was my next record. I completely broke format but who gives a shit! I could be dead by the time the format said to play an oldie.

A half hour later the doorbell rang again. What to do? They knew I was in there. And they all smoked so they all have matches. Any one of them could set the building on fire. I could just see them dismantling the tower and welding it into more bikes.

I reluctantly opened the door. There they were again. The leader handed me a beer and said, “Thanks, man.” They drive off.

Usually I don’t drink beer while on the air but not that night. Anything to settle my jangled nerves.

The next week, same thing. At about 10:00 they were at the front door to request Sweet Cream Ladies. A half hour later they returned with a beer as thanks for playing it.

The following week I just played the song at 10:00 and at 10:30 receive my reward.

Thus began a ritual that lasted almost a year. And it really proved to be a Godsend on Halloween.

Houses get T.P.ed, and cars get egged and vandalized on Halloween in Bakersfield. It’s a proud tradition. And my car was alone in a lot next to the shack in a dark empty field. I figured I’d get off of work and there would be nothing left but a drive shaft and maybe one hub cap. Instead, the car was completely untouched. Guess word got around that I was BFF with the local Hells Angels.

As I drove away I noticed that every house on the adjacent residential block had been egged and trashed and every car attacked. Except mine. Mine was pristine.

Sorry to say me and the gang haven’t stayed in touch. Especially during network note meetings.

Happy Halloween everyone.

UPDATE: Here's the song. You all owe me beers.

21 comments:

Stephen Marks said...

And if you had slept with one of those biker chicks it would have been clap for the Wolfman.
I woke up this morning wondering if I could combine The Guess Who, an STD and one of Ken's excellent posts into a joke and damn it there it is. If you got Pabst Blue Ribbon as payola
wonder what Dick Clark was getting for putting all those lame songs on his show, no wonder the guy died a billionaire.

Ray Richmond said...

Great story. Play it again, Ken.

Jim Grey said...

LOL! I wonder what would have happened if you had asked them to bring you a bottle of bourbon the next time.

Reminds me of how, during my radio days, I used to get requests from the nearby federal penitentiary. The one where they killed Timothy McVeigh. Inmates had to call collect on an automated system. They'd leave their request where they were supposed to say their name. So you'd hear, "Will you accept a collect call from PLAY SOME OZZY MAN!!"

If it at least sort of fit format I always obliged; why not? I usually worked weekends when the program director wasn't listening anyway. Might as well have some fun.

Until the day I got two in a row. "Will you accept a collect call from THANKS MAN YOU ROCK!!!" and "Will you accept a collect call from I'M COMING TO VISIT YOU WHEN I GET OUT!!"

Oh God! I used my real name on the air!

Diane D. said...

How is it possible I have been reading your blog for 5 years and you have NEVER told this story? This is the best! I always love your radio stories but this will have to go down as a top 10. Interestingly, every story I have ever heard about someone having an unexpected encounter with a group that looked like that, was very pleasantly surprised. I wish I knew what kind of song that was that they loved so much. The story sort of reminds me of the Japanese sumo wrestlers who go to Prince Edward Island to get married----they love ANN of GREEN GABLES! How is that possible?

Anyway, thanks for such a charming story to start the day!

Diane D. said...

How is it possible I have been reading your blog for 5 years and you have NEVER told this story? This is the best! I always love your radio stories but this will have to go down as a top 10. Interestingly, every story I have ever heard about someone having an unexpected encounter with a group that looked like that, was very pleasantly surprised. I wish I knew what kind of song that was that they loved so much. The story sort of reminds me of the Japanese sumo wrestlers who go to Prince Edward Island to get married----they love ANN of GREEN GABLES! How is that possible?

Anyway, thanks for such a charming story to start the day!

Andy Rose said...

In the "shack" where I got started, we had to go to low power at night with a signal so directional that we pick it up clearly in our own parking lot. A guy who lived in the trailer park behind us occasionally came to the back door asking for clarification about whether the Cardinals just scored because our broadcast he was listening to had so much static.

ChipO said...

I don't remember the song - as you were five, I was one.
the music doesn't seem to match a motorcycle gang, but the lyrics? hmm.
Much deeper than what I remember of the Box Tops.

Sweet Cream Ladies, Forward March
The Box Tops
Sweet cream ladies, forward march
The world owes you a living
Sweet cream ladies, do your part,
Think of what you're giving
To the lost and lonely people of the night
Out of need, they seek direction for their life
They will love you in the darkness,
Take advantage of your starkness,
And refuse to recognize you in the light
Sweet cream ladies, forward march
Think what you're providing
Sweet cream ladies, show your starch
What's the use of hiding?
Tell the socialites to look the other way
It's instinctive stimulation you convey
It's a necessary function,
Meant for those without compunction,
Who get tired of vanilla every day
Sweet cream ladies forward march
Puritans ignore them
Sweet cream ladies do their part
Sweet cream men adore them
Let them satisfy the ego of the male
Let them fabricate success to those who fail,
And should penalties pursue them,
When there's really credit due them,
They might keep a simple fellow out of jail!
Sweet cream ladies, forward march. O-o-o? [Repeat to fade]

Johnny Mitchell said...

Now as I remember, you and I sat around on that couch you slept on and got caught up on the latest news on Sunday mornings after your Saturday night gig. I can't for the life of me remember anything about my station being assaulted by the Hells Angels every Saturday night for a year.

But then again I can't remember much from that period. I'll just have to wait for your next book on Growing up in the 70's to refresh my memory.

Oh wait I do remember one item.... Ventura Debbie...

Johnny Mitchell
KERN PD 1972 - 78

Diane D. said...

Ha! So much for Anne of Green Gables! I was not familiar with the term "Sweet Cream Ladies", but the lyrics make it obvious. Still it's a sweet song.

ChipO said...

Double post caused by an earwig.
If (for those reading in SoCal) on this lazy rainy!! Sunday morning, you're inspired. Listen to the Box Tops Sweet Cream Lady then immediately follow with YouTube of Doobies' South City Midnight Lady.
Hmmm.

Mark Murphy said...

When I was growing up, my older brother sometimes used to play "Sweet Cream Ladies," among other songs.

I liked the melody and asked him about it. He explained that the song was about hookers.

Imagine my surprise when (this was the early '60s) a commercial for some kind of whipped cream product -- maybe Dream Whip -- used the song, or at least the melody. Same arrangement, too, I think. Apparently the ad agency didn't know what the song was really about; they substituted the lyrics so that instead of "Sweet Cream Ladies" it was "Cream Pie Ladies." ("Cream pie ladies, forward march....")

I believe I saw the ad exactly twice before it was pulled. I suppose in retrospect that I do take comfort in the idea that a big old sophisticated ad agency was as naive as my (then) 13-year-old self....

By the way, Ken, good luck with your play. I hope at some point you'll consider bringing it to Syracuse, considering that you did play-by-play here, and the area has a few theatrical groups.

Diane D. said...

Just listened to "South City Midnight Lady" on Youtube---such a lovely song. The comments (almost all by men) were so touching, and gentle. Your blog, Mr. Levine, has made for a very interesting day---a charming story (about Hell's Angels!), two lovely songs I had never heard (about prostitutes!), and a stream of sweet, agreeable comments (by men!) on Youtube. No offense intended by that last remark---I know a lot of sweet, agreeable men (not in the biblical sense), but they don't usually show up on Youtube.

Thanks for the song recommendation, ChipO.

H Johnson said...

Great, great story. Thanks.

Aloha

Allan V said...

Very amusing story, Ken -- thank you for sharing. I couldn't help but wonder if you had been tempted to bring your own copy of the song after the first couple Saturdays, in case the station's copy somehow broke or went missing.

Earl Boebert said...

I grew up in Hell's Angels country (East Bay) in the 1950s and I can definitely see that sequence of events happening.

YEKIMI said...

Never had that happen at the station I worked at back in the late 70s which at the time was way out in a rural area. Matter of fact, I drove by it my first day thinking it was a telephone switching station, the building was that small. Nowadays it's surrounded by a trucking company and housing developments and it's just used as a transmitter shack for the antenna tower. They moved the studios into the big city.

Barry Traylor said...

What a great Halloween story, who would have thought the Hell's Angels had a tender side. Thanks for sharing.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

Any mention of "Bakersfield" reminds me of Ted Danson getting shot in "The Onion Field."

Disbeliever said...

I gotta say, this is the first time I haven't believe one of your stories ;)

Jahn Ghalt said...

Keep posting your 70s stories, before you know it you'll have:

The Me Generation - Volume 2 - Coming of Age in the Seventies (by Me)

bryon said...

Fantastic story, Ken! I can't even imagine what opening the door that first time must have been like.

Now ... I think we need to know something about Ventura Debbie.