Saturday, August 23, 2014

Me & Marvin Gaye

I'm still in a Marvin Gaye mood after seeing the tribute show Thursday night at the Hollywood Bowl.  So thought I would share my one personal encounter with him.  This is actually an excerpt from my book, THE ME GENERATION... BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60s) that you need to buy immediately.   An early version of this was posted a few years ago, but how often do I get a chance to slyly plug my book? 

1964 Woodland Hills

Must-viewing: The Lloyd Thaxton Show. Each afternoon from 5:00-6:00 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, Mashed 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 elfin 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! I did however, get to appear on Ninth Street West.

With the success of The Lloyd Thaxton Show, every local channel had their own dance party copycat. Over the next few years there would be Shebang on Channel 5 with Casey Kasem, Shivaree on Channel 7 with KFWB DJ, Gene Weed, and Ninth Street West on Channel 9 hosted by KFWB DJ, Sam Riddle. Stations hired the DJ’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 VW 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 several guests scheduled to lip sync their songs. It was impossible to perform live. One amplifier and ten dancers would be pinned against the wall. The guests that night were the Beau Brummels (a group out of San Francisco), 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.

Also guesting on the show that night was a very young Marvin Gaye. During a commercial break they set up for his number. Surprisingly, he seemed incredibly nervous. His hands were practically shaking. 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!”


Richard Y said...

Loved watching Lloyd Thaxton, even his take off on the Bob Newhart bits, just to see what he would come up with next.

Scooter Schechtman said...

What's wrong with pity dates? Some of us have lived our whole romantic lives from one pity date to the next. Oh, not me of course...

Rock Golf said...

You seem dismissive of Peter & Gordon. You shouldn't be.
Peter was Peter Asher, one of the most successful record producers in history: most of James Taylor & Linda Ronstadt's best among them. And everyone from Diana Ross to Robin Williams to Morrissey.

VP81955 said...

Not to pour cold water on your story (though I know much of that was hyperbole on your part, Ken), but assuming that show was from 1964, at that time Marvin Gaye was hardly obscure. He'd had a few hits under his belt -- "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow," "Hitch Hike," "Pride And Joy" and "Can I Get A Witness" among them. But only "Pride And Joy" had reached the top 10 (and that at #10). Perhaps this was his first TV appearance in Los Angeles, which might have led to some nervousness on his part.

But beginning in late '64, three of his next four records -- "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You," "I'll Be Doggone" and "Ain't That Peculiar" -- peaked at 6, 6 and 8 respectively, followed by a smaller hit (but my favorite Marvin Gaye song), "One More Heartache."

Andy K said...

I did 9th St West too. Sam and Kim Harmon. I won $35 in a competition. Don't remember if there was a guest. I took my gf Heather. Like you, mom drove.

Dave Loosehead Gordon said...

Thank you VP81955 - crazy name, crazy gal - your mention of Ain't That Peculiar rung a bell that led me via google to YouTube to rediscover Fanny (steady!) a great all-girl rock band from the 70s. Been humming that tune for years but couldn't remember where I had heard it.

Jim said...

Talking of sympathy dates, wasn't Peter Asher the guy everyone hired because they wanted to meet and bang his hot sister Jane? Who was banging Paul McCartney at the time, but hey, it was the Sixties.

Bob Leszczak said...

Sadly, I never got to meet Marvin Gaye, but I did get to meet Lloyd Thaxton. I was working in radio in DC at the time, and he was working behind-the-scenes on ABC's "America's Funniest People." Anyway, our radio station was involved in the show that week and boy was he surprised that I remembered his two 1960s game shows - EVERYBODY'S TALKING and FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK. In fact, I got him copies of both shows, and he was extremely appreciative and kind. Great guy.

Chris said...

Friday question: You answered the question about the creators coming back for the final season and always being in the driver's seat no matter what.

What about if they just stick around as consultants (executive or producers, by the way is there a difference between those credits)?

Dan Berkes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hi Kevin.....just ran across this and wanted to know your thoughts....the bad tv at its worst but i will admit i watched it

Mitch said...

Re: Thaxton...he said that when he first started doing the show at KCOP, in 1960, he was given a budget of $650 -- for the week. Out of that budget came his salary and all other expenses. I'm not sure if he continued to do live commercial pitches around town at that time. That would have supplemented his KCOP income. I agree with you. Thaxton was one of a kind.

Mike Barer said...

Lloyd mentioned me in his blog. I'll post the link later.

Mike Barer said...

Actually, I'd been waiting for you to get to the Thaxton part of the book so I could share that.

VP81955 said...

Dave Loosehead Gordon said...
Thank you VP81955 - crazy name, crazy gal - your mention of Ain't That Peculiar rung a bell that led me via google to YouTube to rediscover Fanny (steady!) a great all-girl rock band from the '70s. Been humming that tune for years but couldn't remember where I had heard it.

"Crazy name"...I was born on Aug. 19, 1955, and VP are my initials.

"Crazy gal"...I'm a male, and I'm hoping you know that Carole Lombard (my all-time favorite actress) is the lady in my avatar.

Anyway, glad you rediscovered the Fanny version of "Ain't That Peculiar." It's every bit as good as the original.

Cap'n Bob said...

Maybe you were just exaggerating for humor's sake, but Little Children isn't even close to how you describe it. The singer wasn't terrorizing the kids and he wasn't diddling their sister. At least, not in the song. Lyric: "You saw me kissing your sister / You saw me holding her hand."

I said...


Jeffro said...

Details, do tell: So what song(s) did Mr. Gaye sing that night?


By Ken Levine said...

First of all, this really happened in 1964. Can I get a witness? Sorry, but I'll be doggoned if I can remember just which new hit he sang that night. And I'm sticking by that story. I know -- I'm a real stubborn kind of fella.

Loosehead said...

VP, sorry for getting your gender wrong. I went to your page and just jumped to the wrong conclusion based on your websites. It IS a great song, performed well by that group.

Kevin H said...

Wasnt the co host for 9th street west, Kam Nelson, who married Olympic pole vaulter Bob Seagren and became Kam Seagren. Triva, what sporting event , being held for the first time did Bob Seagren win?

Chris said...

Friday question: Any comedy writer with an ounce of self pride will not use canned laughter and instead will rewrite the joke if it didn't get the response he anticipated.

What do you do with pre-shot scenes though?

VP81955 said...

No problem with the gender confusion, Loosehead. Hope you enjoyed your visit to Carole & Co.; you're always welcome there.

Famous! said...

With the exception of Ninth Street West (you know... the one we would have WANTED to see, 'cuz KHJ and all!), all of the L.A. boss teen dance party shows you mention were syndicated to the extremely cheap NYC indies, especially WPIX Channel 11.

Lloyd Thaxton was INCREDIBLE. He was my own little discovery, in a sea of barely-watched Channel 11 programs. My two strongest memories from the Thaxton show:

1. Lloyd, dimly-lit, strumming a guitar, with an enlightened and spiritual look on his face as he acted the part of a dedicated folkie. The song was one of Donovan's first American outings (which, amazingly, was NOT played on NYC Top 40 radio!): "Catch The Wind".

Lloyd lip-synch'ed: "In the chillyyyy... hours and minutes..." He looked positively enraptured. Then he gets to the hook: "Ah, but I may as well try to CATCH THE WIND..", and at that point, the SFX came up of tornado-like wind, a la "Superman", as a giant prop fan started blowing debris all over Lloyd, and into his face.

Lloyd didn't break his expression for so much as a millisecond. Still gazing into Heaven, lip-synch'ing away in the shadows, as the entire KCOP stash of toilet paper and used stationery blew into his mouth;

2. One night, I went over to my Aunt Pauline's house and got to watch her "COLOR" TV. Lloyd was on, which was amazing because Pauline worked for NBC, and there was family loyalty there, the likes of which no sports team has ever seen (you didn't watch Ed Sullivan at Pauline's, because he was on the dreaded CBS!!)

There, in color, which was just getting to Channel 11... was The Lloyd Thaxton Show. And there, in iridescent ORANGE suits... were the Temptations.

I had never before seen the Temptations. A Black group from the actual radio, in iridescent orange suits, no less... doing AMAZING dance moves from outer space, choreographed within an inch of their lives to every phrase of "Get Ready".

Changed my life. I swear, I saw God that evening.

DrBOP said...

Comin' your way this October is the Fest For Beatles Fans, featuring none other than Peter Asher (among MANY others).....and his 90-minute concert consists of a pictorial/video/musical retrospective of his entire career (including his work with James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, etc., etc.)....the highlight for me was his tale of Lennon and McCartney expressly forbidding him to enter the Asher household basement (where the piano was) in Liverpool for two hours while they were working on a particular song.....(this is while McCartney is living with the Ashers in 1962 or 1963).....Peter here's them shouting for him to get downstairs.....they play him "I Want To Hold Your Hand".....they ask him what he thinks of the tune....his answer...."I think it's good.....but could you play it again.....I'm just not sure"

It's most likely the BEST show of its type around......really, REALLY well-put together....and to put it bluntly, he's funny as fuck. Although it's a bit maudlin, he even does that thing of singing along with concert footage of a dead person, in that he sings with the now-deceased Gordon. Weird, right? But it REALLY works!

(Oh, better keep a low profile if you go, Ken. Billy J. Kramer is also part of the Fest :+)
Unfortunately, Billy's a bit past his prime....but give him points for trying.)

And Famous!....check out Cholly Atkins....he was responsible for 90% of ALL Motown acts AMAZING fella!

And last note....Lloyd was also syndicated into the Midwest....I can remember seeing his show in both Chicago and Cleveland....the resemblance to "our" (East Coast) Ernie Kovacs was obvious, but we also felt that he was borrowing some schtick from Ghoulardi, a local WONDERFULLY-crazy late-night horror show host in Cleveland, played by Ernie Anderson who went on to become "the Voice" of Chevrolet, GE, ABC-TV, etc., etc. Also, Ernie's original sidekick was Tom Conway, who changed his name to Tim when he got to Hollywood.

Jeffro said...

Hey, no problem, Ken. 50 years ago, and who knows how many imbibements of a Leap Into An Open Grave later, it'd be hard for even an elephant to remember. I just figured it would round the story out nicely, but it's still a good one. I wouldn't be here if you stories weren't.

Cheerio (again),