Sunday, May 20, 2012

Me & Marvin Gaye

It's finally coming out!  My book about growing up in the '60s will be released within weeks on Amazon!  To get you in the mood, here's another installment.   And check back later today.  I will reveal for the first time -- the title and the cover! 

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!”


404 said...

The real question: Does a recording of that episode exist anywhere, and how can we see it? Whose sister do we have to diddle to watch a young Ken Levine getting his groove on?

JJadziaDax said...

Congrats! It sounds interesting, I know growing up we never did get much further than WWII in American history class each year so the 50s-70s are lacking in my knowledge. Will be good to beef that up with anecdotes.

On another note, the Community saga continues:
Looks like we'll be settling for 3.5 seasons and no movie

Mike Barer said...

I got to know Lloyd via his blog and corresponded with him, I even got mentioned once in it. It made his passing much tougher.

Anonymous said...

By the way, been hearing you on the Mariner broadcasts. Sometimes I think they would win a lot more if they moved to the National League.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this stop at the Memory Lane station. I used to watch Thaxton every day after school. (My parents were hip enough to enjoy some of it when they got home from work, too.)

I have a memory of a very cute blonde being plucked out of the crowd on NINTH STREET WEST and ending up kind of a co-host (or maybe is was comic foil for Sam?).

Ah, youth...

Phillip B said...

Lloyd Thaxton wound up on my black and white TV through the miracle of syndication. He had a warmth and charm - I always expected to see him again in a larger role on one of the networks...

One 1960s memory seared into my young mind was Roger Miller's appearance. Miller was a country singer who crossed over into pop with what seemed to be novelty songs.

Miller lip synched his latest - "You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd" - and came over to chit chat with Lloyd. In the course of conversation Miller admitted to not knowing the lyrics to most of his own songs - as a matter of fact, he said he could not remember writing most of them.

And he was obviously high. Thaxton handled that moment with a sort of wistful sadness - but without snark or judgement.

I've remembered his reaction as "some of the best of minds of our generation" careened down paths of self destruction.

Frank said...

Great story!

D. McEwan said...

EXCELLENT and congratualtions!

Tallulah's crushed at not being asked to blurb.

Chris said...

What's your take on Dan Harmon getting fired from Community with basically the whole writing staff?

Gary said...

Aren't you glad Marvin didn't say, "hey kid, I want you to meet my dad"?

Mike Barer said...

I also watched the Lloyd Thaxton show as a boy and remember seeing the Mamas and the Papas, Gary Lewis And The Playboys and other groups for the first time on that show. I loved Lloyd's "what me worry" personality and the little doll that held the picket sign. In Lloyd's honor, I conclude by saying "So What"!

Krazy Kasem said...

Your justifiable revulsion of Freddie & the Dreamers has left your memory of the timeline twisted (along with, no doubt, your emotional well-being).

Here's when each group's first big hit debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, plus a few acts you didn't mention:

Beatles-- Jan. 1964
Dave Clark 5-- Feb. 1964
(*Searchers-- March 1964)
Billy J Kramer & Dakotas--April 1964
Gerry & Pacemakers-- May 1964
Peter & Gordon-- May 1964
(*Chad & Jeremy-- May 1964)
Animals-- August 1964
(*Manfred Mann-- September 1964)
(*Kinks-- September 1964)
Herman's Hermits-- October 1964
Rolling Stones--October 1964 (or 3 months earlier for a #24 single)
(*Zombies-- October 1964)
Freddie & Dreamers-- March 1965
(*Wayne Fontana & Mindbenders-- March 1965)
(*Troggs-- June 1966)
(*Hollies-- July 1966)
(*Donovan-- July 1966)
Lulu (how'd she get into this crowd?)-- September 1967
The Who--October 1967 (or a couple of months earlier for a lower-ranking single, a la the Stones)

Cap'n Bob said...

I didn't think Freddie and the Dreamers were THAT bad, but they doomed themselves to novelty status with the Freddie dance and the song "Do the Freddie." The other English Invasion bands ranged from very good to so-so on my chart. Silliest of the bunch might have been The Great Scots (okay, not really English, but British Isles), who performed in kilts.
I'm sure there was a local dance show in New York when I was a kid, but senility, in its mercy, has erased it from my memory.

Paul Duca said...

Krazy Kasem...Lulu debuted on the Hot 100 in August 1964 as frontwoman for the group Lulu and the Luvers. Not a big hit (a version of "Shout") but the same time you forgot the debuts of Dusty Springfield (January 1964 as a solo) and Petula Clark (December 1964).

Paul Duca said...

Doug, you know the saying "If you can remember the 60's, you weren't really there"?. With Talullah, pick any decade at random, she can't remember,,,,:)

D. McEwan said...

"Paul Duca said...
With Talullah, pick any decade at random, she can't remember,,,,:)"

Actually, in Tallulah's memoir, which I had the pleasure to ghost-write with her, it's the 1970s she's completely forgotten. She devotes some 68 pages to detailing her adventures in the 1960s. Whereas, Chapter 41, "The Seventies", is but a single page, and it is blank.

Krazy Kasem said...

Paul Duca: Ooooh, I started with both Dusty and Petula in there, but deleted them because a solo vocalist isn't like a band. The real question is, why did I keep Donovan?

As for debut dates, I went with each act's first Top 20 hit... or in Chad & Jeremy's case, the Top 20+1. If you wanna stake a claim for Lulu, or for the Hollies (who like Lulu, cracked the U.S. market years sooner with their cover of "Just One Look"-- #98 with a bullet!), it's no skin off my nose. My nose that sucks in the air that I breathe (and to love you).

Jeffrey Mark said...

Ken, thanks for the Lloyd Thaxton Show memories. I rarely missed a show back in '65-66 when I was nine and ten. I distinctly remember the TV debut of Sonny & Cher on one particular show. Thaxton chided them a bit about their clothes, asking Sonny, what he called their "look." I never saw a girl in bell-bottoms before. I fell in love with Cher right then and there. Sonny was pretty cool, too. That's right, I had forgotten all of the little cool "visuals" Thaxton showed on the program, the ones you mentioned - the lips on the album covers, right, forgot that one...I actually enjoyed his show much more than American Bandstand because of all the clever visual gimmicks he used. And, hey, I had a girlfriend named Marcia, too. (Only she spelled it Marsha.) What a bitchin' babe she was in the 5th grade.

5w30 said...

Small story. Got to meet Lloyd Thaxton later in life, as he was the producer for David Horowitz's consumer segments on KNBC. A friend saw Thaxton's name in the NBC corporate phone book, and wondered if that was the guy she saw as a child on TV. Indeed it was, she made the call, and when both of us made a trip out west, we invaded Burbank and enjoyed a cup of commissary coffee with the man himself.

KH said...

The girl on the 9th street west show with sam riddle was Kam Nelson who later married olympic pole vaulter and superstar champion, Bob Seagren.