Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Me & Marvin Gaye

Here's another installment of my 60s memoirs, soon to be at the Borders near you... if I finish it, get an agent, sell it, and get distribution.

1964, Woodland Hills

Must viewing: THE LLOYD THAXTON SHOW. Each afternoon from 5-6 Lloyd Thaxton hosted a live dance party show on the cheapest cheesiest independent station in LA – KCOP. If his budget was more than $4.95 a show I’d be shocked.

His set consisted of four panels (probably cardboard) with musical notes drawn on them. Kids from local high schools were invited to dance on a soundstage the size of an elevator. This was appointment television for every teenager in Los Angeles.

What made the show special was Lloyd Thaxton. Most shows like this were hosted by disc jockeys. They were content to just introduce the records and step aside while the kids did the Twist, Jerk, Fly, Popeye, Monkey, Frug, Mash Potato, Locomotion, and whatever other inane dance was the rage that minute. Lloyd was the first to realize “this was TELEVISION”, you had to do something VISUAL. So he would find ways to comically present the songs. This elf-looking redhead would lip sync, mime playing instruments, use finger puppets, don wigs, do duets with rubber masks, cut out the lips on an album cover and substitute his own – anything to make the songs fun. In many ways, Lloyd Thaxton was a local version of Ernie Kovacs, finding innovative new ways to use the new medium. Music videos these days are all ambitious elaborate productions. Back then we were quite content to watch a guy sing into his hand.

I always wanted to be on his show but of course didn’t qualify because I was still in Junior High. The indignities continue! However, I did get to appear on NINTH STREET WEST.

With the success of THE LLOYD THAXTON SHOW every local channel had their own dance party show. Over the next few years there would be SHEBANG on Channel 5 with Casey Kasem, SHIVAREE on Channel 7 with KFWB D.J. Gene Weed, and NINTH STREET WEST on Channel 9 hosted by KFWB D.J. Sam Riddle. Stations hired the D.J.’s with the best and most teeth.

I sent in requests to all of them but only NINTH STREET WEST bit. Talk about a great date. Taking a girl to a TV show and dinner at nearby Carolina Pine’s coffee shop in Hollywood. Thanks again for driving, mom!

I asked my friend Marcia. You always want to be seen on TV with someone hotter than you, but not so hot that it screams “pity date”. Marcia was very cute yet believable as my escort.

The show originated from the Channel 9 studios on Melrose Ave. The soundstage was nothing more than a one-car garage (for a Kia maybe). About forty of us were jammed into this tiny space. It’s hard to rock out with reckless abandon when at any moment you could get an elbow in your eye.

There were three guests scheduled to lip sync their songs. It was impossible to do them live. One amplifier and ten dancers would be pinned against the wall. The guests were the Beau Brummels (a group out of San Francisco), a very young Marvin Gaye, and British imports Peter & Gordon.

Kids were so crazed over the Beatles that they started buying records from any group that came out of England. It’s the same principle where girls who can’t sleep with rock stars wind up in bed with their roadies. First it was the Dave Clark 5, and then the floodgates opened. Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (who sang one of the creepiest songs EVER – “Little Children”. The story of a guy threatening little children because they caught him diddling their sister. Ugh!), Gerry & the Pacemakers, Herman’s Hermits, the inane Freddy & the Dreamers (whose entire act was to wear suits that didn’t fit and do jumping jacks), and Peter & Gordon. The harder edged Rolling Stones, Animals, Who, and Lulu would come a bit later.

During a commercial break they set up for Marvin Gaye’s number. Surprisingly, he seemed incredibly nervous. His hands were practically shaking. Hardly the super cool image we’d come to expect. I assured him he was great and had nothing to worry about. It must have meant a lot coming from a white kid in his bar mitzvah suit. He gave me a quick smile, the red light went on and he did his song. Afterwards when he was off camera he thanked me. Not necessary but a lovely gesture.

The next day in school Marcia was quite the celebrity. Everyone had seen her on NINTH STREET WEST. Maybe two or three had seen me. I wanted to say, “Hey, screw you, people. I’m the one who saved Marvin Gaye’s career!”


Anonymous said...

The inane Freddie and the Dreamers?

And you have nothing to say about Herman's Hermits? I had the unfortunate experience of having to go down to Denver and cover their concert at Denver University in July 1965 for the old college newspaper every writer ever started at. The only good thing was they were English, so all the girls who didn't know any better were shrieking so loud you couldn't hear how inane they were.

And Peter Noone still shows up on VH-1 and people from my generation in need of crutches for their brains turn the show on and listen to him. It's sadder than watching "My Music - the 60s" on PBS fundraisers.

Anonymous said...

Awesome story! I'm jealous -- just yesterday I listened to Gaye's "What's Going On?" CD as I was driving around (it's one of the first albums I ever got -- asked for that and Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" for Xmas that year).

The Beau Brummels were good, too (Sly Stone, of all people, was their producer). And I loved Peter and Gordon's "A World Without Love," written by Lennon & McCartney. John and Paul also wrote most of Billy J. Kramer's hits, but not "Little Children," which was co-written by Mort Shuman (who wrote so many great songs with Doc Pomus for Elvis, The Drifters, etc.).

Anyway, I envy you that experience, especially the one-on-one encounter with Marvin.

Roger Owen Green said...

Thanks for saving Marvin's career. Got a lot of Marvin on LP and CD.

Anonymous said...

Peter Noone and Herman's Hermits are playing next week at the Kern County Fair...


Anonymous said...

Lloyd Thaxton's show used to be on in Chicago on weekday afternoons. Don't remember much about it except that it was playing the same songs that were on wls and wcfl, but I do remember coming home after school and watching it (or sometimes the 3 Stooges).

Tom Quigley said...

Lloyd Thaxton's show was syndicated and I watched it when I lived in Buffalo in early 1965, and then when my family moved to a farming suburb of Rochester in late 1965 until it went off the air... The town we moved to was still essentially rural, and most of the other students in my school had never heard of Lloyd Thaxton, let alone watched him... Matter of fact, a few of them came from families that still didn't have TV sets yet -- or electricity...

I always got a kick out of Thaxton's antics... Here was this guy who I thought basically looked like he should be teaching Geometry, lipsyncing, playing air guitar, bringing one or two people up from the audience to demonstrate a new dance he'd heard of, and having what seemed to be the time of his life... And he had some great acts appear for what was essentially a local show on a shoestring budget... Sonny & Cher, The Byrds, Jackie DeShannon, Gene Pitney, the Shangri-Las ("Leader of The Pack"), The Standells ("Dirty Water"), The Dovells ("You Can't Sit Down")...

Rochester had its own once a week Saturday afternoon dance party show held at a local party house here, and it showcased some of our top local bands, such as The Showstoppers (whose lead singer Don Potter went on to produce the Judds in Nashville) and The Heard, a folk-rock group (complete with Rickenbacker 12-strings) headed up by Jeffrey Wheat, who many in the TV business in LA know today as a technical, video and sound consultant with a long list of credits to his name.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

That's swell!

Anonymous said...

The Lloyd Thaxton Show was the coolest! Couldn't wait to get home from high school up in San Francisco to watch it.

It's true, he got all the big names - I remember seeing the Supremes for the first time on his show. Seeing a local show coming from glamorous L..A. made me feel hip.

Thaxton taught me that mouthing the words to a song was called "Lip-Syncing" and all the stars did it - even the Supremes. And the kids on the show did it like they'd been on TV all their lives.

Love this blog - and go Dodgers!

The Curmudgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Curmudgeon said...

Mr. Levine, sir:

I don't remember the lyrics of "Little Children" as being particularly creepy -- I thought it was the more or less innocent lament of a stressed out 14-year old trying to get to first base while being accosted by the younger sibs of the object of his affection.

At least such a construction was possible back in the day.

Similarly innocent, I thought, was "Silhouettes on the Shade," what I suppose you might decry as an ode to voyeurism, by (did someone mention?) Herman's Hermits.

On the other hand, there was the Beatles' stalker song, "Run for Your Life":
You'd better run for your life if you can, little girl/
Hide your head in the sand, little girl/
Catch you with another man, that's the end, little girl"

Kind of hard to put an innocent gloss on that one.

I don't remember Lloyd Thaxton in Chicago. Maybe I was watching the Three Stooges instead. For your Chicago readers: During what years was it on, and on what channel?

Anonymous said...

You left out the real teenager's conundrum that happened at 5:30: stay with Lloyd or switch to Soupy Sales on channel 7.

Mary Stella said...

Ken, I love these memoir stories. In fact, I love them so much that I think you probably should stop posting them because it might prove detrimental to your plans to publish the book.

Publishers could easily say, "Why should we spend money to print this when you've been giving it away for free?" (Oh my God, that advice sounds like my mother explaining why I shouldn't have sex before marriage. LOL)

I'd rather see you actually sell the memoirs and make money, even though it delays my reading pleasure.

First hand experience taught me it's difficult to make money as an author. Might as well try to stack the deck more in your favor.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit younger than you, but I do remember Lloyd Thaxton's show with the singing fingers. But I remember Boss City better. At least I think I do. Was that the one with the Real Don Steele? And, even more importantly, Kam Nelson?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Curmudgeon,

If I remember correctly, The Lloyd Thaxton Show ran on Ch. 5 (WMAQ) weekday afternoons, somewhere around

Also, along the same lines, when I was a wee lad I was on Mulqueen's Kiddie-a-go-go on that new thing called UHF (Ch. 26)

Anonymous said...

Tom Quigley...I know Jessica Savtich appeared with Jeff Wheat on Rochester television, along with doing commercial spots and even being a weekend disc jockey on WBBF, the main Top 40 station--all while attending college at Ithaca. Do you remember watching or hearing her?

Curmudgeon..."Silhouettes" was originally done in 1957, by a group called the Rays (and from that time there was a surreal, proto-music video rendition of the song performed on YOUR HIT PARADE--a copy of it was in existence in the early 80s).

Anonymous said...

And while we're at it, here's a tip of the hat to the late Norman Whitfield, who just died a couple of days ago. He, too, had a little to do with the success of Marvin Gaye, (and the Temptations).

Anonymous said...

the great Marvin Gaye...I'm green with envy

Anonymous said...

Youtube linkage--

Brent McKee said...

There was a Canadian show of this sort done nation-wide by the CBC. It was called Music Hop and the first host was some guy out of Ottawa named Alex Trebek.

By Ken Levine said...

Thanks Mary Stella. These installments are just a tiny portion of the book. Snippets almost. Most of the material is indeed being saved for (please God) publication.

But thanks so much for the advice.


Anonymous said...

Marvin was the first openly-Gaye entertainer on 1960's TV. So thanks Ken, for encouraging Gaye rights on TV so early.

Great story. And you know who may well have been directing that show? Larry "Seymour" Vincent, who did direct one of the those Shebang-type shows in LA back then. I just don't recall which show.

I remember the fact of The Lloyd Thaxton Show more than the show itself. I recall seeing my older sister on it, and I remember when my high school was the invited one, seeing kids I knew on it, though I couldn't be on, because they were only taking seniors, and it was my freshman year. But I don't actually remember what was on the show itself, as I seldom looked at it. I was just not a teenage dance party show type viewer.

I know it wasn't because of Soupy Sales, because he'd left the Los Angeles airwaves for New York City by that time. (I'm assuming the Anonymous with the Soupy conflict was in New York for that reason, and because when he WAS on in LA, back in 1960, he was on at 5.) But if Soupy HAD still been on here then, it would have been no conflict for me. I'd have gone with Soupy in an instant. After all, Pookie lip-synched songs too.

And I'm sorry, other anonymous, but I liked HERMAN'S HERMITS. I still know all the words to I'M 'ENERY THE 8TH I AM, although that may be because it had only one chorus repeated endlessly.

And the Mrs. Brown in our neighborhood had a butt-ugly daughter.

Tom Quigley said...

"Tom Quigley...I know Jessica Savtich appeared with Jeff Wheat on Rochester television, along with doing commercial spots and even being a weekend disc jockey on WBBF, the main Top 40 station--all while attending college at Ithaca. Do you remember watching or hearing her?"


I do remember hearing Jessica on WBBF. She called herself the "Queen Bee," playing off the station's call letters.... Besides weekends, I think she also filled in overnight sometimes. And you're right about the TV ads -- she also did some TV commercials for a local Dodge dealership here, kind of like Rochester's own version of the national "Dodge Rebellion" spots.

BTW, I met Jeff for the first time in my life after I had moved to LA, even though we came from the same Rochester suburb (Henrietta) and I knew about his band from the time I was in 9th grade.

Anonymous said...

"I know it wasn't because of Soupy Sales, because he'd left the Los Angeles airwaves for New York City by that time. (I'm assuming the Anonymous with the Soupy conflict was in New York for that reason, and because when he WAS on in LA, back in 1960, he was on at 5.)"

Not so, Big D. Check the LLoyd Thaxton link on Ken's page for confirmation that Soupy was on at 5:30. If my faltering memory serves, Baxter Ward and the news was on at 5. I remember him making cracks at the end of the news about a man and a big dog being next

Anonymous said...

Very odd. My severely faltering memory remembers THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB being on from 5 to 6 on KABC from 1955 to 1959, and then being replaced with Soupy in 1960, though the Soupman was just half an hour.

God knows I watched him EVERY DAY, and even actually joined an official "Soupy Sales Fan Cub". (Membership card. Pictures of Soupy and White Fang. Soupy stuff. The whole shebang. Hey, I was 10.) About 14 years ago I went to see Soupy perform live. His entire audience that night was between the ages of 40 and 55. Just people who had been kids when he was on way back when.

(BTW, Soupy's live act in 1994 was TERRIFIC! It was a masterpeice of timing and rhythm, and the skill and craft that comes from 60 years in the business.)

Sadly, I learned some time back that I'm not infallible (DAMN! There goes my shot at being Pope. Well, that plus the fact that I'm an atheist, although an atheist pope would certianly stir things up amusingly.), so I could be mistaken. I HATE being mistaken!

Baxter Ward. Boy, it's been one hell of a long time since that name crossed my brain. I can see the sneer on his face as he spoke dismissively of Soupy, but I thought he came on at 6.

At least Soupy was DELIBERATELY funny. With Ward, it was accidental.

VP81955 said...

Ken, I came across a clip from another show of that era, "Hollywood A-Go-Go" on KHJ-TV. Here's Jackie DeShannon lip-synching her self-penned "When You Walk In The Room" (best known now for the Searchers' version, but Jackie's is just as good -- and here you see her in the mid-sixties, being sexy as hell):

And the Beatles' "Run For Your Life" understandably may sound creepy now, but the lyric "I'd rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man" was adapted from an Elvis Presley song on Sun, "I Wanna Play House With You." The Beatles met Presley in 1965, while they were touring the U.S.; this may have resulted from that meeting.

Mike said...

Fantastic story -- I'm also really enjoying these memoirs -- painting a picture of an L.A. and a country from a different time.

However, I couldn't leave well enough alone and had to Google the lyrics for "Little Children", and I'm now stuck in my cubicle at work desperately needing to take a shower.

Tom Quigley said...

"I couldn't leave well enough alone and had to Google the lyrics for 'Little Children', and I'm now stuck in my cubicle at work desperately needing to take a shower...."

Must have been the line "I'll give you candy and a quarter" that did it....

Anonymous said...

I'm a boring guy so let me just cut to the chase. I love collecting videos of my past. Can I get someone to tell me where to find videos of Kam Nelson on The Groovy Show or 9th Street West.

Where the Lloyd Thaxton Show is concerned I too remember it well with love. I have three old recordings of that show I got from traders and ex-broadcasters. Wish I had hundrdeds more, but are scarce. Even on kinescope the quality is more than satisfying. When viewing I'm 17 again.

Anyway, Kam Nelson anyone? The Groovy Show and 9th Street West is what I'm looking for. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

As a sophmore in High School, I was lucky to be a dancer on Lloyd Thaxton, Ninth St West and Shebang. Got to see some great artists such as Marvin Gaye, The Lovin' Spoonful, Bobby Vee and Chad and Jeremy (or was it Peter and Gordon? Can't remember). Anyway, I remember on Lloyd Thaxton they told us up front, before the cameras rolled, not to wave to the cameras or you would be kicked off the show immediately. My friend and her boyfriend forgot not to wave and were kicked to the sidelines during the first dance song. I remember the cables all over the floor and the lights were so bright. And just when it was starting to be fun and we could loosen up, the show was over. My girls danced on American Bandstand and they taped about 10 shows in one day. Anyway, dancing on TV was a blast and I'm waiting to purchase4 the DVD's so I can show my grandkids what Nana looked like back in 1965-66.