Friday, March 2, 2012

Bob Mack

"Bob Mack Presents Hanky Panky" - label shot from The Interrobang magazine.

Robert McConnell, aka Bob Mack, made his living in the music industry the old fashioned way. He played and booked dances, operated a string of hop halls, ran a record shop, owned a label or two, and even had a radio gig back in the day when you could earn your daily bread by serving platters to teens.

First and foremost, he was among a select crew of influential dance DJs in the late fifties and sixties who could pack a club with kids and push them to buy the discs they danced to. He spun rockers and grinders, "race" records, and all the wild and bluesy music that made our little slice of heaven the home of the celebrated and unique "Pittsburgh Sound."

A record collector turned DJ, Mack told Ed Salamon that he started out by doing "...local dances, held in schools or small neighborhood halls. In 1958 I saw an opportunity when Pittsburgh deejay Barry Kaye left town, and I took over Kaye's regular Friday night 'record hop' at the Masonic Temple in nearby Washington."

He started building a chain of clubs the next year and burned the turntable at venues he ran like the White Elephant, Tarena, Blue Fox, Teenland, Wildwood Lodge, Bethel Roller Rink, Lebanon Lodge, Sugar Shack, Teen Scene, and other dance halls stretching from Washington to Erie. He later would open adult dance clubs Infiniti, Zodiac and Frontier.

Beside the hot wax, he brought in live acts like Sam & Dave, Donnie Elbert, Smokey, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Little Anthony, Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, the Isley Brothers, the Coasters, the Shirelles, the Drifters and the Five Satins, along with the local performers, who were all drawn to Mack's sold-out teen club circuit.

In that era, being a radio DJ was not exactly a ticket to joining the 1%. However, for a dance jock, the exposure was priceless. So in 1962, Mack produced a home demo tape for Carnegie's spanking new dawn-to-dusk station WZUM. Owner and station manager Jimmy Psihoulis, a polka player who performed as Jimmy Pol of "Steeler Fight Song" fame, popped it in the recorder and quickly put Mack behind a mic.

Bob Mack's Wax Museum was a show not unlike Porky's WAMO program, featuring lots of obscure R&B and doo-wop. The Museum took off, featuring "Mac's Monsters," and was one of the most popular shows on local airwaves within a few months. But a programming change led to Mack eventually leaving the station.

WZUM's management wanted to update their image and told Mack to add some contemporary sounds to his oldies format. He protested, but to no avail. His ratings slid, and he resigned in early 1964, to be replaced by Johnny Walker.

But radio was never Mack's bread-and-butter vocation; he had several irons in the fire. The music entrepreneur kept on spinnin', and ran a couple of small labels, Romac ("Lonely Heart" by The Enchantments) and Viscount ("Comes Love" by The Skyliners. The label was co-owned by Joe Rock), promoted acts through Atlantis Productions, and operated a record store in town on Smithfield and Liberty, the Tri-State Record Shop.

The record shop segues into one of Pittsburgh's most famous and murky tales, the "Hanky Panky" revival.

The story goes that Mack found the record as part of a midwest collection he had bought for the shop, sped it up a couple of RPM, which is a common practice for DJs who want to juice up the tempo even today, and broke it on the hops circuit in late 1965.

Other say Bob Livorio of WKPA was the first to play it, with Clark Race and Mad Mike putting in claims.  James is no help in piecing together the puzzle, as he was working at a Michigan record store while all the dances (and bootlegging) were going on in Pittsburgh.

But no matter. If not the first, Mack was still one of the earliest jocks in on the record and promoted Tommy James locally. He booked dates, helped him line up The Raconteurs after seeing them play at Greensburg's Thunderbird Lounge to replace the original broken-up Shondells, and took him to New York where James signed a deal with Morris Levy and Roulette Records. In fact, the Roulette label lists "Bob Mack Presents" as part of the credits.

Oh, yeah, one more thing about that record store that Mack owned. His shop majordomo was a skinny North Side kid named Michael Metrovich, who used to pick out records for Mack to spin. He became a hop and radio DJ of some local renown, too. Metrovich even replaced Bob Mack's WZUM replacement, Johnny Walker, after a brief stint at WPIT. You might know him better by his stage persona, Mad Mike.

Small world, Pittsburgh.

(For a comprehensive interview of Mack and his partnership with Mad Mike, click on the PBRTV article written by Ed Salamon.)

The Enchantments featuring Leroy on Romac Records - 1962


Anonymous said...

I knew Porky Bob Mack Mad Mike and Clark Race...Porky got many groups started...he had REAL concerts with about 25 acts..big name groups like Huey Smith & the Clowns, James Brown ,Jerry Butler The Coasters..all for about $6 !at the Syria Mosque I walked 26 miles with Clark Race to "little Washington" and went to some super dances D J d by Bob Mack Mad Mike and once auditioned for Clark Race's dance party

Ron Ieraci said...

Sounds cool. And you're right on - Porky was the preeminent R&R show host in Pittsburgh.

Larry said...



Larry said...