Do You Remember Rock & Roll Radio
Courtesy Gordo Enterprises/Rampart RecordsArt Laboe, the first disc jockey to play rock & roll on the West Coast and one of the first to play black and white artists on the same show, has been a staple on L.A. radio for half a century. You can still listen to his familiar voice on The Sunday Special with Art Laboe, heard locally on Hot 92 Jamz. The Weekly sat down with Laboe at his Original Sound Company, the pioneering record label Laboe started in the 1950s, still located on Sunset Boulevard. L.A. WEEKLY: Can you talk about some of your firsts?ART LABOE: I was the first on the West Coast to play rock & roll Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis. Prior to that everyone was playing Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Don Cherry, Dean Martin and Patti Page. I got a big response. It was like a tidal wave, and kids went nuts for it. There were some people playing R&B, playing the Dominoes and all that; there was (deejay) Hunter Hancock, but he would only play the black artists. I was the first to play the other artists like very early Carl Perkins; this kind of program was never done before. Here I was, live at Scrivners Drive-In. The Art Laboe Show became No. 1 in less than three months. Everyone was playing Sinatras My Way and all of a sudden, I come and say, Hey, mothers, gather up your daughters, here comes Art Laboe and his devil music [laughing]! You were the first person to put together an album featuring hits by different artists. Can you talk about that?Well, thats a funny story. I was still under 30. I was at a girlfriends house and we were listening to singles. We had one of those old players, the 45s with the big hole in the middle. They had these little players that youd stack all on there and theyd drop one at a time and then youd turn them over. So Im on the couch with my girl, doing our thing. Shes wearing an Angora sweater and Im trying to get in there in the 50s everything went slow kissing a little bit, playing music and just about when things are starting to get pretty good, the damn records would stick and not drop right, drop at an angle and the player would stop. So shed be like [nudging], Fix the music. So I get up and pull em off again and turn them over and now play some more, but Id have to start over again. Cant go back to where I was. I thought, Why doesnt somebody put these on an LP? And, damn, the thing flashes in my head right there: Why dont I put these on an LP? I could do that. That night, I went back to the radio station and I took all these records Earth Angel, In the Still of the Night [The Five Satins], and put them on a tape to see what they would sound like. All those songs became Oldies But Goodies Volume 1, which came out in early 59. You coined the term Oldies But Goodies. Howd you come up with that?In 1955-1956, I had a live show at Scrivners Drive-In. People started asking me for songs that were four or five years old. People started asking for Earth Angel and Pledging My Love [Johnny Ace], which came out in 54. So I started putting some of these old songs at the bottom of this sheet at the drive-in. I would let people pick the songs from a sheet that I would give them. My slogan was: You pick em, you dedicate em and you get em. Which was a big deal; there was no radio like that. These people started asking for more and more of these oldies. So I increased the list to include some earlier things, like Devil or Angel [The Clovers]. Now were up to 1957 and things are five years old. So I started calling them Oldies But Goodies! They were old but they were good. They cant just be old; they got to be good. How did the Mexican community get hooked onto you?That happened very early when I started doing shows in El Monte. Because you couldnt have a public dance in L.A. with kids under 18 in the 50s unless the board of education sanctioned it. It was a city ordinance. Except at a school or somewhere where they sanctioned it, and they were very strict about it. The City of El Monte allowed any age to come to a dance. So in early 57, promoter Hal Zeiger invited me to do a show there. So all the kids from East L.A. would come to El Monte. They all drove out there. Every other week I was in El Monte. I treated the Mexican cholos with respect; I played the music they liked. Who are some of your favorite artists?Certainly the Penguins, theyre like the epitome of oldies. Would you say that Angel Baby by Rosie and the Originals is the ultimate oldie jam?I think youre right. Its got a lot of soul: [singing] Youre like an angel... cause I love you, I love you, I do. The Third Annual Art Laboe Show Live!, with NB Ridaz, Zapp, The Originals, Timmy T., The Fuzz and Friends of Distinction, takes place Saturday, September 10, at the Hyundai Pavilion in Devore.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.