What is a Disc Jockey ??

February 7, 2011

I’ve no idea if a “typical” DJ exists any more as the musical world has fragmented into so many different genres from club djs to old men like Brian Matthew still “spinning discs” on the BBC. In the USA in the early 1960s Ted Randall knew what a DJ was (although I’ve no idea who Ted Randall was). A DJ was someone who liked girls and comics and girls (as well as golf and his wife !!).

Ted Randall – What is a Disc Jockey?

My first exposure to American DJs were the “Cruisin'” series of LPs released in the early 1970s. I avidly collected these expensive imports. Each LP was devoted to a particular year (from at least 1955 to 1970) and featured a DJ who was associated with that time period playing a selection of hits from that year. I particularly liked the comic book styled covers which looked like Roy Lichtenstein versions of Romance comic panels. The LPs featured numerous loud characters with exotic names like Russ “Weird Beard” Knight, Jumpin’ George Oxford and Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg. I never worked out if these LPs featured actual radio shows, edits from a number of shows or if they had been re-created just for the LP. They sounded authentic enough with the period adverts and jingles and much use of the echo chamber by the DJs.

Wolfman Jack was another popular american DJ in the 1960s and early 1970s. I doubt I could have coped with listening to him every evening for five solid hours. He often left the microphone open so that he could shout over the top of the records he was playing. American DJs like the Wolfman had people phoning in years before it became (over)used in this country. Then the Wolfman could shout at them too.

Wolfman Jack on XERB Los Angeles – April 1967

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8 Responses to “What is a Disc Jockey ??”

  1. dirigbledave@gmail.com Says:

    Those Cruisin’ albums were astonishing for their time .. a real attempt at some history. Started about the same time as the equally astounding ‘Nuggets’ double lp, which I would rush into a nuclear holocaust to rescue.

    They were really difficult to find in the UK as they weren’t released over here then. As import albums they only really became available through the Virgin shops (and for those of you too young to not understand small chains of stores there were only about 19 of them across the country).

    I bled nails trying to get the whole series directly for my shop. And in the days when, as imports, they cost at least 4 times as much as UK releases, people were shy of buying. Den Hegarty (he of the ever, ever-wonderful Rocky Sharpe and Darts and then only about 20) swore his life to them, before he found Moondogs in London to feed his astounding knowledge of that era.

    on to pt2 …

  2. dirigbledave@gmail.com Says:

    as for Wolfman Jack …
    I’m surprised you didn’t hear him on (I think) US Forces Radio in the late 60’s. That was a different radio I wanted to hear All The Time, it hit a button nobody had ever found before, both musically and by sheer presentation in a world of Terry Wogan and ‘the BBC Northern Light Orchestra playing your favourite hits of Simon Dupree and the Big Sound’ because of the ‘needletime’ problem.

    And while talking of djs in that hysterical style, the sadly and wrongly long-forgotten Emperor Rosko had a wonderful programme on Radio Luxembourg (I’m not sure if that was the station he was on at the time, but I still fondly recall a mental Sunday programme he did live from a rooftop in Paris, which was somehow the most astonishing idea I had ever heard at the time).

    Both Wolfman Jack and Emperor Rosko were, with Mike Raven, Alexis Korner, John Peel and Johnny Walker, pretty well the only people I can remember supplying the R+B, rock, rock and roll and blues history I clearly needed as a youngster to become the anally-retentive music fan I remain.

    I think …

  3. dirigbledave@gmail.com Says:

    um .. in connection with Wolfman Jack I forgot to mention that

    #1 I have always thought that one of cinema’s finest moments (no, really) is the bit in American Graffitti when Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) doesn’t really dscover who Wolfman Jack is (the dj who they hear all night through the film), is simply one of cinema’s best moments, from a time before such became a cliche. Stupendous film, one of cinemas greatest ending’s ever (when you find out that …). And the wonderful soundtrack is also the closest you could get to the Cruisin’ series. And the film is one of the greatest movies of all time (and I say that having sat once again in floods of tears AGAIN through ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’ this week – you’d thing I’d have learned by now)

    #2 Battlestar Galactica – the ‘Cylons on Earth during Halloween’ story in the original series featured a great Wolfman Jack appearance. A man at the end of the career determined NOT to ham it up any more than he ever had, and a tv series determined to pay tribute.


  4. Circa 1973 I used to frequent the Virgin Records shop in Birmingham. I doubt if Branson had as many as 19 shops then. It was only the previous year when I’d been buying mail-order records from Virgin. Didn’t he have a dodgy way of “exporting” and then “importing” his LPs to beat paying purchase tax and thus undercut the opposition?

    My memory dims but I think then the Virgin Records shop in Birmingham was some small dingy place at the far end of Corporation Street near Aston University. We would spend whole days in there, smoking and drinking etc listening to Tubular Bells and Pearls Before Swine. Sometimes I even bought a record. One of them was indeed Nuggets.


  5. Yes, I listened to Wolfman Jack on AFN (American Foces Network)from Germany. Don’t know if the shows were AFN specific or not. He always seemed to be playing You ain’t seen nothin yet by BTO whenever I tuned in…..perhaps they played the same show every night…..

    American Graffitti may have been responsible for kickstarting the early 70s Rock and Roll revival in the UK. In the States it brought about “Happy Days” and the Fonz but it didn’t prevent the stateside music industry sticking with Country and Western and then Disco….

  6. dirigbledave@gmail.com Says:

    Yep, I should have been clearer in my muddy thoughts – in 1973/4 there could only have been 7/8 Virgin stores, it wasn’t until the later 70s, when they were seen as a proper chain, that they had 19. Somewhere in a box is a paper Virgin Records bag with a list of the shops in 1975, I’ll go diving if I can.

    Your memory doesn’t dim, they were all dingy. But they had great floor cushioned areas with headphones and you sit all day and listen to albums, buy cans of coke (and other stuff – but that wasn’t always from the staff or through the till) and generally chill out.

    As for dodgy legalities, there are tales to tell. But I’d discreetly suggest that that’s not a line you’d want to go down publicly unless you want to spend the rest of your life in litigation. The corpses aren’t buried that deep and some record labels have long memories. Still, it’s common knowledge that the back room full of bootleg vinyl was always a good money-spinner for the shops, and there was a lot of good, if very expensive at the time, stuff available – if only I’d had the cash then to pick up more of those TMQ Floyd and Dylan bootlegs. Although I guess nowadays all of its easily available as mp3s, there’s still something very warming (but not at all creepy) about fondling white card sleeves pasted with roughly cut photocopies of Robert Crumb cartoons and badly typed tracklists.

    Pearls Before Swine, eh. Smooth. I still shrink into my pillow at the memory of the withering ‘oh go away you tiresome little schoolboy’ stare when I asked to hear Tonto’s Exploding Headband the first time I requested anything.

  7. dirigbledave@gmail.com Says:

    I’m fairly certain that the Forces Network stuff was syndicated progs from the USA as I have absolutely no recollection of any specific dedications, and kinda dimly remember that, as well as the great R+B and Rock and Roll stuff he played, was one reason I preferred it to dear old Beebs ‘Two/Three Way Family Favourites’.

    I’m talking mid-to-late 60’s here – the Wolfman was all old rock and Roll, plus Percy Sledge, Arthur Conley, Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave etc. Interesting, was it really all deep soul Stax/Atlantic etc as opposed to poppy Motown, or is just my later personal filter?
    I’d stopped listening by the early 70s.


  8. Your comments as usual send my thoughts off in a completely different tangent. Yes, Bootlegs were under-the-counter stuff you had to ask for like dirty books……

    I saw my copy of “Tonto’s Expanding Headband” last night whilst looking for my copy of Jonathan King’s 1974 LP “JK All the way” (?!?)

    I recall listening to a show on AFN called “Old Gold Retold”. That old gold was often brand new to the young me trying to fill in some gaps in my musical education. It has just taken barely a minute to google AFN and download an Old Gold show AND two Wolfman shows………….


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