Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review: Records Truly is My Middle Name by John Records Landecker

Records Truly is My Middle Name
By John Records Landecker with Rick Kaempfer
Eckhartz Press
277 pages

As a kid in Chicago in the early 1970s, I listened to Larry Lujack and his Cheap Trashy Showbiz Report, Klunk Letter of the Day, and sourpuss meanderings. In college in the early '80s, the irreverent banter of Steve Dahl and Garry Meier kept me entertained between classes. During high school in the mid '70s, my radio go-to guy was John Records Landecker, of Boogie Check fame.

In Landecker’s autobiography, Records Truly is My Middle Name, (Eckhartz Press) Landecker explains that, yes, Records is his real middle name, not a stage moniker. He even includes a photo of his selective service card in the book to prove it. John's mother, Marjorie Records married sociology professor Werner Landecker, so yes, his mother's  maiden name truly was Records, and John incorporated that in his on-air persona. Of course, it sounded too good to be true and  many fans, myself include, surmised it was a stage name.

When your Mom’s maiden name is Records, a career in radio is your destiny. Landecker's first radio gig, in Flint, Michigan in 1965 on a station that required all DJs to use the last name Jones on-air. Naturally, John chose the name Dow Jones. He made his major market debut  at WBIG in Philadelphia from the late ‘60s to the early ‘70s, with  fellow DJs Jerry Blavat (The Geator with the Heater), Hy Lit and Joe Niagara.

1974 Boogie Check


Landecker begins each chapter with a round-up of the top events of each decade, setting the backdrop for the revelations to follow.   The book is an engaging read that isn't just for radio buffs. It's a rollercoaster ride through the prime decades of rock 'n' roll, told from the POV of someone who was well-known enough to glimpse the inner workings of rock's hedonistic years, but down to earth enough to retain a realistic attitude for most of the ride..

Landecker’s autobiography entertaining is just as much fun when he focuses on his personal life as when he writes about his radio  shenanigans.

Many times, readers of pop culture autobiographies complain about the author including too many personal anecdotes that  aren't as interesting as events in the author's professional life. Landecker’s life out of the broadcast booth is just as  interesting to read as his DJ exploits.’’John's father Werner Landecker, was the last German Jew to earn a law degree in Germany before World War II. Werner immigrated to the Untried States and married Indiana farmgirl and 4H winner Marjorie Records.. The story of how, they met, stopped at an intersection in separate cars, is a cute meet worthy of a remake novel. Werner and Marjorie married, and their first child John was born  on March 28, 1947. Landecker’s  childhood and  adolescence mirrored that of your typical Baby Boomer  He writes about playing football in high school,  being in class when a student-teacher tearfully announced President Kennedy’s assassination. Other, less serious, rites of passage included discovering that the lyrics to Louie, Louie by the Kingsmen were dirty, (The lyrics weren’t actually dirty. It was an urban legend), and  watching the Beatles - and Mitzi Gaynor in a low cut dress - on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. As the book moves on, we learn about Landecker's tumultuous second marriage to a hellion named Paula and his financial victimization at the hands of a once-trusted manager. 

Landecker’s  halcyon years at WLS in Chicago  from 1972 to 1981. During his signature bit, The Boogie Check, he fielded calls from listeners unafraid to be goofy. Landecker outdid them at their own game with glib comments. Spinning Seasons in the SunEres Tu and other cheesy Top 40 songs would bore anyone, so the DJs had to be wacky to keep  listeners interested – and keep themselves from falling asleep!  Personality based radio flourished at this time, featuring bits that entertained in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge way; shock jocks had  yet to take over the airwaves. Landecker’s fellow DJs at WLS  included Larry Lujack, Fred Winston and Bob Sirott.

Studio A: Profile of a Disc Jockey

Landecker recorded two comedy singles, Make a Date with the Watergate and Press My Conference,  poking fun at President Nixon and the Watergate sandal Make a Date, a parody of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side. Despite being big hits with listeners, the songs were temporarily shelved when an ABC affiliate in Florida, up for license renewal, freaked out over their (relatively innocuous by today's standards) content.

During Landecker’s tenure at WLS, other highlights included a personal appearance with John Travolta  (then a teen idol as Barbarino on Welcome Back Kotter) at a suburban Chicago shopping mall.  The promo drew 30,000 screaming teenage girls. I remember hearing the broadcast live that night. It sounded like a 747 taking off. Many of the bands of the time  stopped by, co-hosting and commenting on records, and Landecker premiered Lady by Styx on his show, the song that propelled the band to stardom.

Like many other DJs and musicians,  Landecker fell prey to rock ‘n” roll excess. He woke up one day on a flight over the Grand Canyon with no recollection of how he got there. His drinking escalated to the point where he drank vodka openly in the studio. He divorced his first wife (his high school sweetheart), married a trophy wife, then a much younger woman before marrying his fourth wife and soulmate Nika.    

After leaving Chicago for a gig in Toronto,( followed by an unsuccessful return to Chicago radio) Landecker hit rock bottom with alcohol and drugs. After conquering his demons, he reemerged on Chicago radio, settling in with a well-received shows on WJMK, a  band  and a syndicated  show called “Into the 70s” for TKO Networks. He is currently broadcasting on WLS-FM (Chicago’s Classic Hits) weeknights from 8pm to 11pm.

Records Truly is My Middle Name is sure to stir great memories for Chicago radio fans who grew up in the 1970s, or any Baby Boomer who grew up on AM radio.

 Press My Conference and Make a Date with the Watergate

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Most Haunted Cemetery in America - Bachelor's Grove

Bachelor's Grove, a tiny abandoned cemetery in southwest suburban Chicago, is often featured on Ghosthunters-type shows and is said to be one of the most haunted places in America. I grew up in  southwest Chicago, and visited the forest preserves surrounding the cemetery many times with my family.  I have a vague memory of walking down the trail that leads to Bachelor's Grove (during the day, unfortunately) once when I was a kid.  It takes a lot to convince me that a place is haunted, but in this case –

-Satanists plied their trade here in the 1960s, sacrificing animals, digging up bodies and setting fire to coffins
- Partying teenagers toppled headstones, carved messages in them, etc, in the 1970s and beyond
- Al Capone dumped bodies in a nearby pond*
-  In the 1800s, a farmer and his horse drowned in the same pond – or maybe another body of water nearby, not sure.
- The bodies of the Grimes sisters, two teens who were kidnapped in the 1950s, were found nearby, in Willow Springs.

* I think either my Dad or Grandpa related this story to us one day on a family outing as we drove by the forest preserve.  

So, if a cemetery would turn out to be haunted, this one would be a good candidate.  I always got an eerie feeling when  we drove by this area when I was a kid, especially at night. I wonder if that’s just because of all the rumors I’ve heard since I was little. It would be interesting to see how someone who never heard the stories would react while walking in the cemetery. It seems most of the people posting YouTube videos about their experiences were raised on the folklore and maybe expecting to see ghosts.

People have reported seeing a white lady carrying an infant, flashing orbs of light, a transparent woman sitting on a tombstone, a phantom farmhouse that would shrink and disappear when approached, monks and a "ghost" dog resembling a Rottweiler. Check out photos of Bachelor's Grove at  Chicago Now.

Here's a documentary about Bachelor's Grove, complete with pictures of the "Madonna of Bachelor's Grove"

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: I Killed Pink Floyd's Pig by Beau Phillips

I Killed Pink Floyd's Pig
by Beau Phillips
Peanut Butter Publishing
260 pages

Beau Phillips, a former DJ at KISW-FM in Seattle and a senior VP of marketing for MTV Networks, chronicles some of his encounters with  rock royalty from late 1970s to the mid-1990s  in I Killed Pink Floyd’s Pig: Inside Stories of Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n' Roll.

For all the talk of the decadent ‘70s and ‘80s, these stories seem  pretty tame by today’s jaded internet standards. Instead of rappers shooting each other, we have tales of trashed hotel rooms, pilfered beer, Van Halen and strippers taking over a radio station control room and British rock stars trying to understand softball.

The short, breezy chapters feature a “Who’s Who” of 1980s rock, with a few side characters like  a rather lame VH1 contest winner and a fledgling DJ named Jimmy Kimmel. (I wonder what happened to  him?) Groupies figure in a few of these stories, but the goings-on are described in a comical, PG-rated way.

Sammy Hagar wrote the foreword, and the rock ‘n’ roll tales star Pete Townsend, Roger Daltrey, Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones,Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Jon Bon Jovi, Bob Geldof, Heart, ZZ Top, Pat Benatar, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Algie, the inflatable pig of the title.

Readers of a certain age will remember the radio station promotions that tied in with a band’s concert appearance.  The promotions, usually involving a crazy scheme, would last for weeks or sometimes months in every city the band played.  Some contests were random ticket giveaways, but others got pretty inventive. Professional skullduggery between radio stations in the same market (regardless of demographics) could get cutthroat. Such shenanigans would get you sued today!

Before Clear Channel took over 99.9% of terrestrial radio stations,  many small, local companies with little to no broadcasting background owned radio stations.Like Mr. Carlson of WKRP, many radio execs were unhip individuals with equally conservative advertisers. This is demonstrated in the story about ZZ Top, a jewelry company and the song Pearl Necklace.

A quick and enjoyable read, I Killed Pink Floyd’s Pig is a memoir of rock’s golden age, when front row tickets were the Holy Grail and the local disc jockeys the gatekeepers.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: The Monkees from a Fan’s Perspective : Interview with Author Fred Velez

Fred Velez’s book, A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: The Monkees from a Fan’s Perspective, recaps his journey from childhood Monkees fan to  achieving every loyal fan’s dream of meeting- and occasionally working with-  his idols.  He’s also a blogger at and emcee at various Monkee-related events. A loyal fan since he first heard the Monkees’ music in the 1960s, he’s followed the group and their solo careers through the lean days of the 1970s to the 1980s MTV revival and onward to the current day.  I spoke with Fred a few weeks ago about his experiences as a Monkees fan and his new book, which is available on


How did you first discover the Monkees?

I’m a first generation fan and I got to hear their music first on the local Top 40 radio station where I live in the New York City, so I had WNBC and WMCA And stations like that. I heard the music first without even seeing the TV show. I liked the songs Last Train to Clarksville and, I’m a Believer Later I discovered the same guys who were singing these songs had a TV show. I didn’t realize they were on TV right away. I used to watch Gilligan’s Island, which was on at the same time as the Monkees.  I never forgave Gilligan for a long time!

When did you first meet the Monkees?

I was fan from ‘67 til  the point where they broke up in 1970. (After that)  I found out about their exploits through teen magazines. I kept following what they were doing -   Michael  Nesmith when he went solo and collecting all of his records and Davy with his solo projects and I did my best to find out about Micky’s solo projects and get his records.  Peter was out of the picture for a long time.

I actually got to see them for the first time live  in 1976 when Micky and Davy united with songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart performed as Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart They played inside the Riverboat (Nightclub) in New York City. I think it was the first time I got their autographs personally. I didn’t get to really know them yet.  

Peter didn’t get back in the limelight until 1979, 1980. I saw him in a few clubs in the 1980s in New York City. He appeared on the Uncle Floyd Show, a take-off on the old-time kiddie shows of the 1960s.  unce Floyd used to have lots of performers on this show.  including the Ramones and Jan and Dean. Peter made one of his early comeback TV appearances on the Uncle Floyd Show.

I had friends who worked on the Uncle Floyd show and they told me about Peter’s second appearance there and came up to the studio to meet him. I got to meet Peter and get to know him for the first time there. I appeared on the show with him and Uncle Floyd and showed off my Monkees memorabilia and Peter was very supportive and we’ve had a rapport since then.

Davy, I got to know on a more personal basis in 1984, when he made a trip to New York City on the QE2  with his then wife Anita and young daughter Jessica. Maggie McManus, who did the Monkee Business Fanzine.  I was a writer for (Monkee Business) I had connected with Maggie in the late 1970s, early 1980s and started writing articles for her magazine. Maggie arranged for Davy to appear on some TV shows in New York -  The Today Show and Regis Show.  She asked my advice for other shows, and I recommended Uncle Floyd because I knew Peter had been on it. I knew people on the Uncle Floyd Show, so I got in touch with them, so Davy made appearances on the Today Show, Regis Show and Uncle Floyd Show. We had the audience on the Uncle Floyd Show in Monkees hats.  So that’s where I got acquainted with Davy. 

Didn’t you work on a book with Davy?

Yes I did.  In early 1990-91, I was  working on a job I wasn’t very happy with and I took a chance and sent Davy a note asking if he was looking for an assistant or anything like that, I’m available. I mailed it off and thought, well, I don’t know if I’m going to hear from him or not. And then a few weeks later, I’m in the other room watching television I hear the telephone in my other room ringing and I let the answering machine pick up. Once I got to my room,  I turned on the machine to hear the message, and it was Davy saying “Hey, Fred, I got your note.  If you’re interested in working on a project, give me a call.”

After the initial shock, I gave Davy a call He was working on his book Mutant Monkees with his partner at the time Alan Greene and asked if I wanted to help out. He wanted to get a fan’s perspective on some things that fans might want to see in the book.  So I made arrangements to met Davy in (his home in) Beavertown, PA.. Davy’s partner Alan Green picked me up and I stayed at Alan’s house.  Then we went to Davy’s house and  Davy gave me a rundown of what he wanted - random catchphrases  like “Save  the Texas Prairie Chicken” and “You must be joking.”  And then Davy pulled out this big trunk in his living room and said “Fred, you look through here and check and see if there’s anything here you think we can use for the book.”

I was looking through there and I thought “Wow! I’ve died and gone to Monkee heaven!” It was full of personal memorabilia, photo albums full of fantastic photographs, of his time with the Monkees and solo, pictures of Davy with Pete Townsend, Barry Manilow and people like that. I went to the photo album to pick out photographs, including pictures of behind the scenes from Head.and wardrobe photographs.  I was only there a day, day and a half because I had to get back to New York. Davy was grateful for my help on the book. He wanted to get a fan’s view of what they wanted to see in a book. The book came out about a year later and he sent me a signed copy of the book, which I was very happy about. I was thrilled to see my credit in the book, that I had added a contribution to it. I was very proud of my association with Davy in that regard.

The book is out of print, but you can find it on eBay or under Other Sellers on Amazon.  

Why did you decide to write A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You ?

For years, a lot of friends and colleagues knew about my experiences with the Monkees working with them and on Davy’s book, interviewing them on stage at various conventions, introducing them on stage, and they said “Fred, why don’t you write a book about this stuff.” I’d think “Yeah, I’m busy with other stuff,    But I had in the back of my mind I had this book in me and I needed to write it one day. And then after Davy died, I wanted to share these stories before they disappeared.  I started putting together notes and finding memorabilia and photos I wanted to use for the book.  I started the physical writing in June, July 2013 and I finished the final chapter in January 2014.   I got the book self-published it and it was ready in time for the March 2014 Monkees Convention.

How was this year’s convention?

From my perspective, it was a lot of fun. It was a great convention. For the first time Michael Nesmith made a major appearance at a Monkees convention. The last time he was at a  Monkees convention, he was at the 1989 Monkees Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony He only appeared at the convention part of the press conference, but he wasn’t involved in the full Monkees convention  like  Micky, Peter and Davy were.

This past Monkees convention, Mike was more involved. He did a Q and A onstage, he signed autographs and memorabilia for the fans, and he did his Movies of the Mind Concert at the convention. I’ve seen Michael Nesmith in concert many times, and this was the best I’d ever seen him.  He was totally animated and having a great time got feedback and love from the fans and it showed in his performance.  It was one of the best Michael Nesmith performances I’ve seen.

What is your favorite Monkees memorabilia?

One of my favorite pieces is the Mattel Monkees hand puppet. I remember that back in the ‘60s. I wanted to get that then. But I did get it later on at a memorabilia show- not too expensive.  And it’s a nice little piece.  We got a photograph of ourselves in present time with it when we did the 1980s Monkees Convention.

The second most favorite piece is an original 1965 Davy Jones Fan Club button before the Monkees when Davy was a solo artist and had a fan club.   I wore that button when I met Davy at the QE2 and the Uncle Floyd Show. And I’ve wore it to many different Monkee events – to conventions and I’ve worn it to the Davy Jones Memorial at BB King’s in 2012.

My 2nd favorite is an original 1965 Davy Jones Fan Club button before the Monkees he was solo artist I wear that button to the QE2 and to  Uncle Floyd’s memorial for Davy in 2012. So it was a personal piece because of the connection with Davy on that.

I have two major pieces of memorabilia autographed. I have a copy of the 1986-87 Monkee Business Fanzine signed by all four Monkees at the MTV Christmas video in late 1986. I was at the taping and asked all four Monkees to sign it. The other one is a photo of myself with all four Monkees at the 1989 Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony.

Peter Tork is the one who arranged to get that photograph done. I knew the photographer Mike Bush and Helen Pantuso, who helped get the Monkees their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She was one of the people who got the campaign rolling.  She had me as part of security at the Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony. We went inside the theatre with the Monkees waiting until they were called to come outside to accept the star. And I was walking with Peter, saying hello to Mike and Micky and Davy (as we walked outside) Mike Bush was taking photographs and said, “Excuse me, but you’re in the photograph.” So I said “Oh, sorry,” Peter Tork grabbed me by the arm, pulled me back in, and said, “Fred, you stay in the picture,” So I got my picture taken with all four Monkees. And the look on my face is “I can’t believe I’m in this photograph.” I’ll always thank Peter Tork for that. Later on, I did get the picture signed by Peter, Micky and Mike. Unfortunately, I never got it signed by Davy for various reasons. I have a big regret about it. At last year’s  Beavertown Memorial for Davy (2013), all four of Davy’s daughters were there, and I had them sign it. So the picture has a more personal meaning because it has the three Monkees and the four signatures of Davy’s daughters.

What is your favorite Monkees song? Your favorite episode of the TV show?

My favorite Monkees song is “While I Cry” from Instant Replay. My favorite song that Michael Nesmith wrote and recorded with the Monkees.  My favorite episode of the TV series, bar none, is “The Devil and Peter Tork” Each of the Monkees, especially Mike and Peter, had a rare opportunity to do some really fine acting. It’s the best episode they ever did.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Steve Perry's Comeback - Onstage with the Eels, May 25, 2014.

Steve Perry onstage with the Eels in St. Paul, Minn. last night. He sings the Eels song  It’s a Motherfucker, (because it’s funny to hear an ’80s soft-rock icon swear in a song), Open Arms and Lovin’, Touchin, Squeezin’ . He’s singing in a lower register and his voice is pretty uneven, but then again he hasn’t sung in public in 20 years. (And the Eels know what they're doing. This is great publicity for them.)

It’s good to see Steve performing again.  I hope this won’t be just a one-shot deal.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: The Grand Delusion: The Unauthorized True Story of Styx by Sterling Whitaker

The Grand Delusion
The Unauthorized True Story of Styx
By Sterling Whitaker
BookSurge, 2007
371 pages

I have a soft spot in my heart for Styx. I was born in Roseland, the neighborhood where Dennis DeYoung formed the band with the Panozzo brothers. My grandmother would bring me newspaper articles about them when I was in junior high. The band played shows in high schools and colleges near my house when I was a kid, as did MS Funk, Tommy Shaw’s band prior to Styx.  And when I studied arts management in college, the class received copies of the band’s 50-page contract rider.

“The Grand Delusion”, Sterling Whitaker’s unauthorized bio of  Styx, is a fascinating read. Now, be forewarned, this isn’t your usual tale of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery.  A sex and drugs bacchanalia this ain’t.  Except for a few brief hints at Tommy Shaw’s womanizing and drug use in the early ‘80s, this book is dirt-free. No, the book is riveting for its look at the soap opera-like rise, fall and revamping of an arena rock band of the 1970s and early 1980s, with a cast of characters that manages to be intriguing even without page after page of scandalous behavior.

“The Grand Delusion” is comprised of interviews with managers, promoters, publicists, fans, friends, radio hosts and journalists who dealt with the guys at various points in the band’s history. The author interviewed Tommy Shaw  in the early 1990s,  but the book lacks new interviews with JY and Dennis. Meticulously researched with information from newspaper and magazine articles and other sources, it gives a fair overview of the band’s situation.  

Dennis DeYoung was portrayed as the bad guy in “Behind the Music”, and he comes off as a narcissist in “Grand Delusion”, too - but I got the sense that he can’t help it. I had to put the book down a few times and say “Was this guy for real?” Despite this, he comes off more as a quirky character than an arrogant bastard.

Tommy and JY weren’t angels, either, but after reading all the details in this book, it seems like they  just cracked after putting up with Dennis’s tantrums for so long. They finally ousted him from the band in 1999  when he couldn't continue their reunion tour due to health problems.

There’s virtually no opinion added by the author; the book is mainly interview transcripts. The foreword by Glen Burtnik, former Styx guitarist, puts it all in perspective - Styx was never cool, but a lot of people bought their records.

“The Grand Delusion” is a great read if you like Styx or have any interest in classic rock music. If you’re fan of “Hit Men” type music books focusing on the old school music business, the interviews with the band’s former managers will give you an insight into how a well-oiled, big money rock ‘n’ roll machine worked.

If you’ve not interested in the music business, the book works great as a tale of human psychodrama. You might even get some ideas for a screenplay -the dramatic version of Spinal Tap, perhaps?

Thanks to Sterling Whitaker for a great book about an often neglected band. Reading this book renewed my interest in Styx  I've even warmed to the current incarnation of   Styx, and I usually write off a band after their hit-making line-up ceases to exist.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

From the Archives: Starz - 1970s Hard Rock/ Power Pop

This article was first published in 2001 on

The weathered newspaper clipping still sits in my file cabinet back home – a review of a rock show at the Aargon Ballroom in Chicago in 1977.  The featured bands  consisted of four relatively unknown acts. Angel, Starz, the Runaways and Piper. Piper was fronted by Billy Squire, (we all know what happened to him) , the Runaways were a training ground for Lita, Joan and Cherie, and Angel copied Kiss' costume shtick, except they dressed all in white. All of the acts provided their own brand of  sleazy ‘70s hard rock. It could be said that each had a gimmick. In the Runaways case they were teenage girls (female bands were considered a "gimmick" at the time), Angel had their costumes and fog machine, and Starz, well, they really didn’t have a gimmick unless you counted singer Michael Lee Smith’s lips and pouty demeanor. (A curious sidenote- Michael Lee was teenie bopper idol Rex’s brother) The controversy over their song “Pull The Plug”, a bluesy, sexy song about euthanasia,  got them a lot of mainstream press.

The band consisted of Smith, guitarist Richie Ranno, drummer Joe Dube, bassist Pete Swerval, and guitarist Brendan Harkin. (Swerval and Harkin were replaced by Orville Davis and Bobby Messano, respectively, on Starz’ last studio album.) Visually, Starz were not far removed from the hair bands that proliferated a few years after their demise.  

Their songs were likable in a '70s AOR kind of way – Detroit Girls, Live Wire, Night Crawler capitalized on the preening lead singer sex appeal in vogue at the time, a precursor to the hair band explosion to come. A band like Starz would have fit right in with any of the Poisons and Bon Jovis of the mid/late 1980s.The Starz albums produced by Jack Douglas did not deviate much from this formula. With the exception of their third album, Attention, Shoppers, which temporarily abandoned Kiss-like guitar machinations for a brighter, self-produced pop sound, all Starz’ albums were cut from the same “party all night” cloth. Coliseum Rock, the bands last shot at stardom, flopped, despite good, solid rock songs like So Young, So Bad and Take Me.

Although garnering little airplay and no kudos from critics, the band had a loyal underground following right up to their break-up in 1980. A great retrospective is Brightest Starz:Anthology, released by England’s Heavy Metal Records. The 1970s Starz albums have been rereleased on Metal Blade. Founder Brian Slagel is a Starz fan, as are Tom Kiefer of Cinderella and Jon Bon Jovi. The band still performs, in various permutations, across the U.S.

The band's self-titled debut and their second album, Violation, are included on Kerrang's list of the Top 100 Heavy Metal  Albums of All-Time.

Related links: