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 Scrivner’s Drive-In. The Art Laboe Show became No. 1 in less than three months. Everyone was playing Sinatra’s “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, that’s a funny story. I was still under 30. I was at a girlfriend’s 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 you’d stack all on there and they’d drop one at a time and then you’d turn them over. So I’m on the couch with my girl, doing our thing. She’s wearing an Angora sweater and I’m 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 she’d 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 I’d have to start over again. Can’t go back to where I was. I thought, “Why doesn’t somebody put these on an LP?” And, damn, the thing flashes in my head right there: “Why don’t 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.” How’d you come up with that?In 1955-1956, I had a live show at Scrivner’s 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 we’re 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 can’t 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 couldn’t 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, they’re like the epitome of oldies. Would you say that “Angel Baby” by Rosie and the Originals is the ultimate oldie jam?I think you’re right. It’s got a lot of soul: [singing] “You’re 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.

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