[The one and only Henry Rollins contributes a weekly column and far-reaching reportage to the music section of the LA Weekly. Look for your weekly Henry Rollins fix right here on West Coast Sound every week and make sure to tune in to Henry's KCRW radio show every Saturday evening, or online, or as a podcast, or however else you decided to listen to the most eclectic DJ on LA's airwaves.
This installment includes Henry's thoughts on music radio's debt to DJs Alan Freed and Dewey Phillips. And come back for the awesomely annotated playlist for his KCRW BROADCAST. For more details please visit KCRW.com and HenryRollins.com
Who Put the Bomp?
Recently I wrote my editor, one Gustavo Turner, and asked if he had any ideas he wanted me to write about. Gustavo sent me an interesting list that I will no doubt be pounding away at soon. The last idea on the list, which he said was only a joke, was a question delivered over two lines: “Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp? Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?” Of all of the ideas, this is the one that interested me the most. I will, over the next several hundred words, do my best to answer.
Quite literally, “Who Put the Bomp” was written by Barry Mann and Gerry Goffin. Mann, along with his collaborative partner and wife, Cynthia Weil, managed to write a few songs now and then, such as “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “Saturday Night at the Movies” and (with Phil Spector) “Walking in the Rain,” to name but a few. Gerry Goffin, not that much of a slouch, with his wife and collaborator, some gal named Carole King, was able to eke out a few songs that some found pleasing, like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman,” “Up on the Roof” and “The Loco-Motion.” Not bad.
Now, to answer more in the interpretive and abstract, I think it is radio DJs Alan Freed and Dewey Phillips who had a whole lot to do with the bomp and ram placement.
In my opinion, music radio owes a great debt to these two visionaries.
It is said that Freed came up with the phrase “rock and roll” and was one of the first to integrate radio play. In the '50s, there was a problem. The problem seemed to be that white kids really dug “race music,” and for some, that was just not on track for a Wonder Bread Clark Kent America. If these damned kids started listening to that music, obviously all hell would break loose and they would all be screwing, leeching off the taxpayers, smoking weed and speaking Russian by the end of the summer. If this plague picked up any degree of momentum, you never know, thousands of young people might start saying hell no and not going into the pointless Southeast Asian meat grinder scheduled a few years later. They might even want to give peace a chance!
Whiter-than-white vibe annihilators like Pat Boone were brought in to croon the music of the darker element in an attempt to pacify the fair-skinned youth who craved Little Richard's style much, MUCH more.
[Standing Up for Rock & Roll Side Note: Years ago, I hosted five episodes of a show on VH1 called The List. Pat Boone was one of the guests. It was right after he released his despicable metal covers album, In a Metal Mood. For me, this man will always be one of the evil forces that tried to destroy the rock. Fail! I am sure he would say the exact opposite. Anyway, whenever I had to ask Boone a question, I was unable to do anything but yell. Literally, sitting only a few feet away, I yelled the questions at him, while the producers no doubt cringed and wondered how they were going to edit this for broadcast. I didn't care. I saw him at the airport a few years ago and wanted to bite him on the leg and hang on until I was pepper-sprayed. Listen to his song “Speedy Gonzales” and feel the bile rise!]
Anyway, Freed was doing his thing on a station in Cleveland, which probably explains a few things, like the raw fact that Cleveland audiences rock like hell to this day. He had thousands of fans listening in every time he hit the mic. There was no way J. Edgar Hoover didn't have a file on Freed. To some, Freed represented a very real threat to the status quo. Integration via music?! That sure screws up the whole “divide, conquer and be afraid” plan! Freed understood the incredible power of music and was laying it down years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
What he was doing then, booking sellout shows with musical groups of different races, packing halls with kids of different races — what is seen as just another day at the office now — earned him waves of animosity. Screw 'em. Alan Freed preached the gospel of rock and R&B and had quite a way with words. He wasn't just drawing a paycheck — he loved this music and liberated the hips and wild spirits of millions of young Americans.
Freed got wrapped up in a payola scandal that eventually brought his career to a close. He didn't finish well, unfortunately. Alcohol took its toll and Freed left the dance hall in 1965 at only 43.
Of course, Alan Freed wasn't working in a vacuum. Arguably as rockin', way more of a loose cannon and a real gone maniac — we have to mention Daddy-O Dewey Phillips.
Phillips, who predates Freed, was burning up the airwaves way down south in Memphis with his Red Hot & Blue show. It was Phillips who, in 1954, was the first to play Elvis Presley's “That's All Right, Mama” on the radio. The world would never recover.
Like Freed, Phillips integrated his radio show and let it all hang out. He had far less discipline than Freed, but he made up for it in sheer lunatic behavior. I recommend a must-have collection of some of his air tapes: Red Hot & Blue (Live Radio Broadcasts from 1952-1964) on the Memphis Archives label. Absolutely incredible. Being the nut he was, Dewey Phillips couldn't hold down a job and his bad habits eventually got the better of him. He died in 1968 at 42.
Everything comes from something, and most of the time there was someone there before you. Now and then, someone is able to look at an empty space, conclude it would be a great place to start a revolution and bravely go forward.
So, Gustavo, and all of you fantastic ones who got this far — that is my answer to the burning bomp question issued several hundred words ago. Until next week.