The local personality

Ed. note: I’ve been after the Austin-based 45 collector, Wisconsin rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast and platter party host Dominic Welhouse for a post for a few years now, basically since I started Office Naps.

Dominic is one of the healthier collectors I know.  He has box after box of heart-pounding vinyl rarities spanning every imaginable style, but – when it comes to music – form and a sort of classicist perfection will forever trump mere collectibility.  Through our years-long conversations and MP3-laden email correspondence, I’ve come to regard him as a spiritual brother in the quest for perfect wall of sound productions and dreamy ’60s country obscurities and other otherworldly strains of post-War music.  There have also been a few sub-genres of his own invention or compilation; I was thrilled when he proposed this theme.

These three 45s capture something that could be so inspired – creative, even – about local media, and local media hosts, in the post-War decades.

The first two selections relate to radio and music.  Alongside entrepreneurial hustle and local record stores, venues and recording studios, a radio host played a critical role in the infrastructure necessary for nurturing a thriving music scene.  Airtime for local groups and artists was procured, live appearances as emcees and disc jockeys were made, relationships among artist, label and venue were forged.  At their best, the host played the role of tastemaker, passionately and consistently pushing their own sensibilities through a selected programme of favorites.    But galvanizing a local scene was more than the sum of exposure, connections and good tastes.  A Mad Mike or Mad Daddy took things to some fervent new level, cultivating their own sound and capturing the imagination of a local populace with flamboyant, envelope-pushing patter and playlists of wild rock ‘n’ roll originals.  Theirs was charisma and a free-wheeling, specialized enthusiasm, a born type.

These three selections (the third includes television host Gailard Sartain) all document this rarer breed: the personality.  These individuals drove vital, original programming to young audiences and championed up-and-coming acts but all was not just boosterism for local musicianship or the means, in Sartain’s case, for filling up a slot of television programming.  In short, it was about the host’s art as an entertainer and no less than the sheer, breathtaking expanse of their personality.   This dynamic reaches some sort of obvious fruition with these three selections.  Terry Lee, the Weird Beird and Gailard Sartain talked, wrote, played music, acted and – with nothing to offer but their God-given charisma – they made records, too.  I’ll let Dominic take it from here.

Terry Lee, TL's Sleepwalk (T.L. Sound co. TLS45-1A)1.  Terry Lee, TL’s Sleepwalk (T.L. Sound co. TLS45-1A)
Even after the payola scandals of the late ’50s, those able to cater to the tastes of teen ears made a pretty good living if they had good hustle. Terry Lee Trunzo – or as his fans knew him “Terry Lee” – could hustle with the best. In addition to his radio program, at one time or another Trunzo hosted television dance shows, promoted live concerts, DJed dance parties, managed and recorded local bands (the Swamp Rats, Arondies and the Fantastic Dee Jays, among others) and compiled albums of song favorites in album jackets featuring suave pictures of himself.

One of Trunzo’s claims-to-fame was a show segment called “Music For Young Lovers.” For a few hours every night he played nothing but make-out music. A popular part of his show, “Music For Young Lovers” was undoubtedly the soundtrack of many Pittsburgh teens furtive romantic experimentation.

In “TL’s Sleepwalk,” Terry Lee shamelessly bites Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk,” slows it down, and gives it fresh purpose. Terry Lee evokes the inchoate feelings of the romantic teen with this smooth monologue, recorded in August 1963.

Strangely, this record didn’t get a 45 release until 1987. Until then, fans of “TL’s Sleepwalk” could only find it on one of his Music For Young Lovers LPs.

The Weird Beard & Crazy Cajun, T'was a Weird Nite Before Christmas (Capri 509)2.  The Weird Beard & Crazy Cajun, T’was a Weird Nite Before Christmas (Capri 509)
The Weird Beard aka Russ Knight – born Russel Lee Moore – was an extremely popular Dallas DJ in the early sixties. Working the 7pm-to-midnight shift at Dallas’s KLIF, he is reported to have enjoyed a 62% percent market share. Folks to whom I’ve talked confirm that he was hugely popular, and his appearance on the 1962 volume of the oldies series Cruisin’ bears this out. Popular with the kids, his patter often rhymed and – among his conceits – he conducted interviews with “Beatles,” young men faking Liverpudlian accents. He helped with KLIF’s JFK assassination coverage and was later deposed by the Warren Commission concerning his contact with Jack Ruby during that fateful week. Reading a transcript of his testimony yields the tidbit that Ruby brought sandwiches and celery soda (!) to KLIF DJs/reporters during assassination coverage. After Knight mentions celery soda in his deposition, he’s asked follow-up questions in which his interrogator attempts to decipher the soda’s brand. Crazy.

In 1964 Knight moved to KILT in Houston. His antic behavior and popularity with the kids undoubtedly led to him laying this track down with East Texas producer Huey Meaux, a man whose activities (good and bad) could fill a large-yet-very-readable biography. Meaux’s productions are often marked by their looseness and the Weird Beard’s waxing is a case in point. This record has qualities I would describe as “psychedelic,” but I strongly suspect the drug of choice was hard liquor. What I imagine began as a fairly normal recording date became very weird, indeed. Meaux even gets in on the sonic fun himself. Every time I play this record, I struggle to discern its maker’s intended audience. As with many of the records featured on Office Naps, I doubt this one found its way into many jukeboxes.

By ’66 Knight was back at KLIF. Since then, he’s been in a variety of markets across the U.S, including a recent stint doing talk radio in Washington, D.C.

Natural Brass Company featuring Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi, Scope Them Turkeys Out (Brass Monkey BMR-107.01-A)3.  Natural Brass Company featuring Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi, Scope Them Turkeys Out (Brass Monkey BMR-107.01-A)
In Tulsa, Oklahoma from 1970-1973, the television airwaves carried The Uncanny Film Festival (get it?) and Camp Meeting. Essentially a way to repackage and celebrate B-movies, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and an occasional Busby Berkeley fantasia, the show included locally-produced sketch comedy. Several years before the nationally broadcast Saturday Night Live, Tulsans had their own show filled with comic hi-jinks, catchphrases, off-kilter humor, and – at least once – a musical performance courtesy of Leon Russell. By the second season they even had a cast member, Gary Busey, who’d subsequently wreck his life with drugs.

Natural Brass Company featuring Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi, Scope Them Turkeys Out (Brass Monkey BMR-107.01-A)Gailard Sartain’s opportunity to stand in front of the camera is an old cliché: he was working as a television cameraman when his station’s late night movie host quit. He asked the program director, “Why not give me a shot?” and his pluck was rewarded: Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi was born. Sartain would play a variety of characters, but “Mazeppa,” the wizard who would join host Sherman Oaks (Jim Millaway) to introduce the films, was his calling card. This record dates from the show’s first year of production.

Natural Brass Company featuring Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi, Scope Them Turkeys Out (Brass Monkey BMR-107.01-A)Roy Clark caught an episode of Mazeppa Pompazoidi and Sartain was invited to join the cast of Hee-Haw. Sartain went on to be a Hee-Haw regular. To this day, he enjoys a movie career as a character actor (notably, he played the Big Bopper in The Buddy Holly Story).  In my imagination, The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting is like Hee-Haw, adding drug humor and increased sexual innuendo.

Also a visual artist, Sartain did the artwork for Leon Russell’s Will ‘o The Wisp LP.

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4 Responses to The local personality

  1. Oliver says:

    oh lawdy.. we are on some proper record nerd shizzle here.. love it… the T. lee cut is just straight up creepy.. he must be 40 yrs. old which makes it even creepier stalking on wax the other cuts are what happens when insurance salesmen get locked in a studio – they come up with some psycho weird non-sense from wearing clip-on ties too tightly

    tons of fun dip your toes in the rio grande for me

  2. Little Danny says:

    Yes indeedy, Oliver. My fave will probably always be that Terry Lee track. Almost too much to believe.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Way to let your nerd flag fly, Perfesser!

  4. Mike says:

    Dom rules the heaven and earth, Us humans shouldd know that by now. de puta madre, tio.

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