Sunday, March 28, 2010

WQED Doo Wops...Where's the Local Acts?


Hey, Old Mon gives his doo-wop props to WQED and guys like T.J. Lubinsky and Henry DeLuca. The public station has kept the good times rollin', and has another oldiesfest comin' up soon. They have a 40 act, three night extravaganza of groups (The WQED Oldies Spectacular) from the 1950s-70s booked to tape a live concert at the Benedum Center from May 21-23.

It's good for the station - you have to pony up a hefty pledge to get tickets - for PBS, which will broadcast the show in December, and for the oldie lovers who abound in the City and across the country.

Jay Black will be there, the Coasters, the Passions, Ronnie Spector, The Orlons, and Len Barry, along with local acts The Marcels, Lou Christie, and "The Guys From Turtle Creek," Bill Burkett & Huey Geyer of the Vogues.

And that's it, so far as we can tell - three local bands in a three night show. Hey, TJ and Henry, did you guys ever hear of the Skyliners? Chuck Corby? The Four Townsmen? Mickey Toliver and the Capitals? The New Holidays? Leon Daniels and the El Venos? The Laurels? Chuck Jackson? Buddy Sharpe? The Wee Jams?

Listen, there's a million local guys out there that paid their dues and are still performing, both for the love of music, a little fame, and beer money. With 40 bands playing, don't you think that maybe WQED could put one night aside for the Pittsburgh sound?

We know that PBS is in it for the money; heck, nothing wrong with that. Even a non-profit needs some profit to exist. We know too that there weren't that many Number One records out of Pittsburgh, even in its heyday, like there were from the coasts.

Still, Pittsburgh's music industry has always been one of the dampers on the local scene. Radio doesn't give the hometown bands any love, promoters don't push the groups outside the region, and the suits put everyone's music on some download site instead of properly promoting a platter.

TJ, Henry, and WQED - thanks for the job you guys do keeping the oldies alive. And next time, maybe you can show a little love to the local bands. Just because it's from California or New York City doesn't make it better.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Richie Merritt

richie merritt
Richie Merritt photo from The Marcels

Richie Merritt is on the short list of local doo-woppers and soulmen that no one outside the industry has ever heard of.

He still sings occasionally with The Marcels, and has performed with The Clovers, The Memories, and The Drifters.

Since moving to Florida, he's put together his own show for the Sunshine State region audiences, hitting the stage as "Richie Merritt Solo" or as “Richie Merritt & The Gems,” featuring a revue that salutes Little Anthony, Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson, served along with classic R&B, soul, and some oldies' tunes.

Merritt got his start in his native river town of Donora, where he sang in his father's Pentecostal Church as a three-year old. Better know for churning out baseball players like Stan Musial and Ken Griffey, father and son, than singers, Donora still proved to be a fruitful launching pad for Merritt.

He formed his first group there while a grade-school kid, the El Qunitones. In 1960 and attending junior high, Merritt put together The Dragons, named after the DHS mascot. The group included Ted "Reno" Smith, still a Marcel's band-mate, and they stayed together until graduation day.

After earning his sheepskin in 1966, Merritt enrolled in the Army and sang on a USO tour in Germany, where he got the chance to perform with another GI on his way to bigger and better things, Aaron Neville.

After his discharge in 1968, Merritt joined The Electrons as lead singer (after "It Ain't No Big Thing"), remaining with the group for five years. Throughout the following decades, Merritt sang with a "Who's Who" of local groups.

After the Electrons, he moved to the Vibrators, a hot local act during the seventies. They broke up in 1979, and Merritt went on to sing for High Society, primarily a standards band, and The Laurels and The Memories, which were show bands with an emphasis on Motown and slick choreography. He also found time to open a short-lived night club.

He got a little solo love too, when in 1990 "Where Did I Go Wrong?", a song Merritt wrote and recorded, landed in the Top 10 of the Northern Soul-crazed United Kingdom. (It was later released on the 1998 CD "Richie Merritt - Then & Now").

In 1992, Merritt, then with the Memories, was approached by Johnny Mason about joining The Clovers. The wooing eventually worked when in the fall of 1993, he signed on with the band as lead tenor.

The Clovers were booked for Atlantic City six months a year, were regulars on the Carolina "shag circuit," appeared regularly in Vegas, and played in venues across the country.

The group performed on the PBS special, "Doo Wop 51," in 2000. The Clovers were inducted to the Doo Wop Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002. The VGHOF induction performance was Merritt's last as a Clover.

But Merritt didn't have to worry about filing for unemployment after he left. Walt Maddox had a spot saved for him with The Marcels, which Merritt had appeared with during prior performances as a fill-in tenor.

Now, nearly a decade later, he still does special performances with The Marcels (they just did an Erie gig in January at the Presque Isle Track & Casino), and does his own Gulf Coast thing out of his home base of Tampa.

And hey, it doesn't get much better for a sixty-ish Pittsburgh doo-wopper. A resume that runs from the Electrons to the Clovers, a regular schedule of bookings, enough to keep you busy without competing with your tee-times, and a home in the Golden State.

It's a long way from Donora.

"Where Did I Go Wrong?" - Richie Merritt

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ed Salamon

Ed Salamon from Wikipedia

Ed Salamon is a Brookline guy that's had an enormous impact on the country radio industry. Though he's long gone from the City, he's been making the local rounds pushing his new book, "Pittsburgh's Golden Age of Radio." And Salamon was around for it; heck, he was part of it.

He went to Resurrection Grade School on Creedmore Avenue (it closed in 1996 and is now Brookline Regional) and got into music with some boyhood classmates at South Hills Catholic High (now Seton LaSalle; the times, they are a changin').

And no, he was not part of a 1964 country revolution; he played guitar and fronted for the Headliners, a blue-eyed soul band along the lines of a Righteous Brothers mash with the Temptations.

They were pretty good, too, though they never released any wax. The Headliners played the local teen clubs and hops, sharing the stage with Pittsburgh artists like The Marcels, The Fenways, Johnny Daye, and the Igniters.

The biggest problem was that George Goodwin and the Headliners, an entirely different band, collected all the radio love with their oft-released hit "Let Me Love You." And the City wasn't big enough for two Headliners. After being called the Highlanders by one dance jock, they knew the Headliner era was over.

The original band broke up, and a McKees Rocks group, the Travelles, backed Salamon as fill-ins to finish the bookings. He then he formed the Avengers, and later joined the Rockers from Mt. Oliver. But it was now 1966, and college beckoned, marking the end of Salamon's career fronting a band. The education would serve him well.

After graduating from Pitt after a stop at Robert Morris, Salamon found his niche in the industry. In 1970, he joined KDKA's marketing department.

Just 20, he was hired as the Assistant Promotion Director and Director of Marketing Research, mainly to help publicize the station's 50th anniversary. They soon promoted him to Music Director of the station, Pittsburgh's 800 pound radio gorilla.

From there, he was hired as Program Director for WEEP radio in 1973, then a country station and barely treading water in local ratings. He did some homework, polled the audience, applied a Top 40 radio template to the programming, and featured a pared downed playlist of listener favorites.

Under Salamon’s guidance, WEEP became second only to KDKA in Pittsburgh adult ratings, a remarkable jump, and led WEEP to a larger audience share than any other top-ten market country station. Goodbye Pittsburgh, hello Big Apple.

Salamon jumped into the fire of America’s number one radio market when he was hired as Program Director of WHN in 1975. WHN had gone through three Program Directors since switching to Country in 1973, and was, like WEEP, at the low end of the ratings scale. Country didn't stir new York City's urban soul.

Using his listener research polls, he threw together hard core country artists like George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard with prog country acts like The Eagles, The Marshall Tucker Band and The Allman Brothers into one playlist. Viola - crossover!

It caused a firestorm, but hey - it worked. In 1976, WHN was named "Station of The Year" by Billboard Magazine. In 1977 WHN repeated, and Salamon was named “Program Director of the Year”. The station itself had zoomed to NYC's #2 spot, behind only megapower WABC.

He also produced a nationally syndicated series called “Live From The Lonestar CafĂ©," with acts like Johnny Paycheck, Ernest Tubb, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, Jr.

In 1978, Salamon was named National Program Director of the Radio Division of WHN’s parent company, Storer Broadcasting, supervising the programming for its stations in Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles along with New York.

Salamon won Billboard Magazine’s award for National Program Of The Year for the “The Johnny Cash Silver Anniversary Special”, which he produced. BM again named Salamon "Program Director of The Year" in 1980 and 1981, and WHN as "Station Of The Year" in 1980 and 1981. He left the Big Apple on those high notes.

In 1981, Salamon formed The United Stations Radio Network with Dick Clark and Nick Verbitsky. He was responsible for the creation of weekly programs including “The Weekly Country Music Countdown" and “Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll, and Remember.” Both are still airing, with RRR in syndication now.

Salamon also wrote and produced specials on, among others, the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

United merged with Transtar and became Unistar, then became part of Westwood One in 1993. Salamon became President/Programming of The Westwood One Radio Network, responsible for programming by the networks’ biggest stars including David Letterman, Jay Leno, Martha Stewart and Charles Osgood while bringing aboard Jon Stewart and Fox News.

In 2002, Salamon left Westwood One and became Executive Director of The Country Radio Broadcasters, Inc., a Nashville based non-profit which he had been part of since 1976 as board member (Ed calls Nashville home now).

He just left the group a few months ago, and is living the life of an author, between teaching gigs at Belmont University, where he's an Adjunct Professor in Mass Communications. Salamon was recognized more than academically; he was inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame in 2006.

Also into the history of music, Salamon has produced retro albums and written liner notes for dozens of artists, including his early favorites The Skyliners, The Platters and The Ink Spots. His latest effort as an historian/author is the must-read "Golden Age of Pittsburgh Radio."

But dragging country music into the here and now through focus groups and crossover artists is his greatest claim to fame. The next royalty check that Zac Brown gets owes a couple of its zeroes to the work of Ed Salamon.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Blues From The 'Burgh


On Sunday, the Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania releases its new CD, "Blues From the Burgh: 2." with tunes from seventeen local blues bands at the Palisades Ballroom. Its profits will go to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Adagio Health, Blues in the Schools and other Pittsburgh regional charities.

Artists scheduled to appear are Wil E. Tri, Jill West and Blues Attack, Ms. Freddye and Blue Faze, Pamela Bick and the Warehouse Blues Band, Angel Blue and the Prophets, Ian Arthurs Band, Gary Belloma, Jimmy Adler, Billy the Kid and the Regulators, Eugene Morgan and the Night Crawlers and Bubs McKeg and Dr. Blue.

The Palisades is located at 100 Fifth Avenue at Water Street in McKeesport. The show begins at 2 PM, tickets cost $5, and the CDs will be on sale there. Here's the tracks:

"These Are My Blues" - Miss Freddye and the Blue Faze
"Harry Can't Play No G-String" - Will E. Tri and the Broadcasters
"Short Chain" - Angel Blue and the Prophets
"Needful Things" - Jill West and Blues Attack
"Players Been Played" - Pamela Bick and the Warehouse Band
"Mean Little Poodle" - Ernie Hawkins
"Just Had to Play the Blues" - Felix and the Hurricanes
"Get Out of My Kitchen" - Jimmy Adler Band
"$200 Car" - Ron Yarosz and the Vehicle
"Say You Wanna Woman" - Billy the Kid and the Regulators
"My Sweat, Your Money" - Eugene Morgan
"Girl that I Knew" - Ian Arthurs Band
"How in the World" - Bubs McKeg and Dr. Blue
"Money Box" - Stevee Wellons
"Post-Gazette" - Gary Belloma and the Blue Bombers
"Little Man" - Mahajibee Blues Band
"You So Crazy" - Robert Peckman

It's a sweet CD and the bands are all tight blues players. You can't beat the price, either. So if you're looking for something to do to help pass what should be a lovely Sunday afternoon in the area, this is the ticket.

Jimmy Adler Band - Lovestruck"