Brian Lord’s Radio Stories No. 10
Sonny & Cher; Big Daddy gets California-ized; Dean but no Jan
Sonny Bono had a Beatle haircut before the Beatles did. In those days the Brits dubbed it a “Puddin’ Basin” cut until the Beatles eschewed such terminology. I met Sonny in 1962 when he was a Record promotion man for Atco Records, the “white” arm of Atlantic Records. In L.A. which was 60 miles due west of where I worked, all the record companies were represented with either head offices or warehouses, Los Angles was a 7% market meaning that the city was responsible for seven percent of all records sold in the USA.
Sonny had a reputation as being an oddity of sorts but I liked him. We hit it off and he used to come out to Berdoo (San Bernardino, now the asshole of California but a thriving Air Force town in the early 60’s) and we’d go to lunch, he paid, and we’d talk. One day he came out acting all joyful and silly and what had happened was, he’d fallen in love.
I have no idea what account you have read regarding how Sonny and Cher met but I was told the story by Sonny and it goes like this. There was a guy named Red who worked with Sonny at Atlantic-Atco and the two were friends and Sonny being something less than a Marlborough Man type never had a date. Red was in a position to help. He was living with Cher La Pierre who had had two hi-profile boyfriends, actor Warren Beatty when she was 16 and B. Mitch Reed the KFWB DJ who had a big chunk of the L.A. audience.
Red arranged for a date for Sonny; where he found this date I have no idea, anyway the foursome went to some bar where Sonny’s date turned out to be a he and dumped poor Sonny on the Dance floor. Red proceeded to get plastered which prompted Cher to ask the forlorn Sonny to take her home, she was through with Red, the pisstank and moved in with Sonny. Sonny’s quirky but lovable personality apparently appealed to Cher because he told me they were happy as clams and planned big things in the music world.
Cher had had jobs as a back-up singer with Phil Spector‘s harem; Sonny could write and after a few lame attempts the duo (first known as Caesar and Cleo), hit with I Got You Babe and the rest is history. I kept in touch for years, at first riding around in their limousine along with Charlie and Brian, their managers, as they made appearances on high school Prom Nights in L.A. and later, I presented them in concert.
Dave McCormick, meanwhile, had been given his marching orders by Ron Jacobs to report to California. Having successfully gotten K/MEN up and running, Jacobs turned his attention to dusty, hot Fresno, located half way between Bakersfield and Sacramento in the San Joaquin Valley a five hour drive north of Los Angeles and known for its grapes, veggies, nuts, fruit and cotton (yup). KMAK, a broken down has-been of a station that Jacobs and his hand-picked crew of California disc jockeys, plus Dave from the distant north, planned to turn into a rocker and a money maker was well situated for the wealthy merchants and farmers of the rich valley.
Ron added a small “e” at the end of the call letters and the DJ’s were the K/MAKers, admittedly a bit of a stretch but this was 1962 and it may have been the fore-runner to other off-the ceiling radio station names like Jack-FM and the practice of giving frequency only call signs.
Before the station even got on the air, “Sunny Jim” Price, the figurehead PD under Jacobs (who would broadcast Breakfast), held a pool party at his motel. Dave writes that he and his wife dressed “back home” (as in Vancouver style) -- Darline wore her best party dress, I wore a long sleeve sport shirt, sport jacket and slacks. Did WE look weird? The air staffers and dates, were “dressed” California Casual – shorts, Sandals, t-shirts or Hawaiian shirts, sitting around Price’s apartment pool, sucking back drinks – none of whom even got up to shake hands or introduce themselves! All were on 2nd, or 3rd marriages, and/or relationships! Welcome to California, Big Daddy.
Because of some legal rule, KMAK had to remain sounding as it did for a few weeks which was ‘all over the road’ – big bands, ballads, Crosby, no rock & roll, no commercials, no ratings, I recall Jacobs telling me, “Don’t Sound So Good Dave! Save it for when we go rock’n’roll!” I also recall cleaning out all the old records – 45’s and LP’s – some of which I took home – while at work I was “building” the new library of K/MAKe Rebound Sounds, and introducing myself to the label reps in San Francisco.
Whatever, my CFUN buddy was in California and as the months rolled, Dave would interview rock stars, present them in personal appearances including a hilarious Beach Boys episode (next chapter), and begin building a name for himself that, over the years would establish Big Daddy as an influential and respected radio man from L.A to Seattle. As I say, more of his exploits to come.
Most of you have probably heard the Jan & Dean hit Dead Man’s Curve about a race along Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard between a Sting Ray and an XKE Jaguar which ended in tragedy -- ya don’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve … ooo-eeee, etc. It first came out in 1963 -- a second version was released a year later with a few words changed and horns added -- but the song was considered prophetic because Jan Berry later cracked up much like the Jag in the song except closer to Vine street along Sunset than “the Curve” which is actually in Bel Air, west of Hollywood. Three years after the initial release Berry, who was heading to a business meeting, hit a truck and was badly injured. He was driving a Sting Ray.
Dean Torrence kept the image of the duo alive by doing solo appearances and keeping in touch with radio DJ’s as well as doing LP cover graphic work. He had a beautiful Harley Davidson and used to come out to San Bernardino when I was on the air 6PM to 9Pm and talk music with me between records. He never gave up on Jan, always gave me an update about his partner’s condition All duded out in his motorcycle leathers with a great sense of humor and a bag full of stories, Dean was one of the best radio interviewees I ever met.
Jan and Dean did sing together again but the string of hits they’d had in the early 60’s ended pretty much with Dead Man’s Curve. A little known public fact about Jan and Dean; they relied heavily on The Beach Boys and their leader Brian Wilson for material and back-up vocals. Surf City, Drag City, The Little Old Lady From Pasadena (got a good tale about her coming up) and the portentous Dead Man’s Curve sounded so much like Beach Boys tunes that one could honestly say they were an integrated group.
Next up: McCormick hosts The Beach Boys in Concert before they were household names, the era of “The Thons” and Phil Spector.
Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who couldn't hear the music.