It’s Saturday morning. Last night, Alexis and I and daughter Jackie went to Centennial Park in Munster to watch Kashmir play a bunch of Led Zeppelin. You can look far and wide, but you will not find a better Led Zeppelin band… outside of Led Zeppelin.
Kashmir is the guitar player, Jimmy Page style. He even looks like Page, with the long hair and the skinny body and one-piece body suit. Kashmir does a great job of staying in character, even off the stage. The only local musician that I’ve seen approach Kashmir in terms of raw musical talent is Skafish back in the day, and, of course, Michael Jackson. After that, you’re into the bottom half of the top ten, if you’re lucky.
One of the things that attracts you to Kashmir, outside of the amazing tightness of “Communication Breakdown” and even a pretty good version of “Stairway to Heaven,” is the stamina. Alexis and I and Jackie arrived about 8:30pm. Kashmir and his band were playing “Over the Hills and Far Away.” We bought some beer tickets, found a place to stand, and then proceeded to watch Kashmir play for two and a half more hours. His only short break was the drum solo.
This was on top of playing for an hour and a half before we got there. I know this because attorney Justin Tauber was leaving as we were walking in.
“I gotta go, but we’ve already heard a bunch of songs. He’s been playing since seven.” Zeppelin straight through on a perfect summer night outdoors with my wife and daughter. Beat that.
… I can’t beat that, but I can get close. Wheras my radio day ended with “Whole Lotta Love” and “Black Dog,” my radio day began with the two of the most well-known people in Chicago radio over the past few decades – Steve King and Johnnie Putman. They did, for 27 years, the overnight show on the WGN 50,000-watt blowtorch. Now, we’ve become friends.
Part of it is that Steve started out in radio at WJOB back in the 1960s. We have that bond. He was also around to host local sock hops when the Jacksons were coming up the ranks, and he did a bunch of radio at WLTH in Gary in the 60s also. Steve also grew up across the state line in Illinois. He may not necessarily be a Region Rat, but his brother lives in Munster and he comes down here all the time… so we’ll give him a pass.
It’s the second or third time that Steve and Johnnie have been on the morning show with me. And you’d think that I’d get some new material. Every time, I comment on how a South Side shmuck like Steve King could figure out a way to trick a hottie like Johnnie to be his sidekick in life.
“You ever run into a couple and you say to yourself – ‘How’d he ever get her?’” I opened up our hour together with this observation. It may be a bit droll, and it may hurt Steve’s feelings a little, but it rings of truth and that’s all you can ask for in radio.
Maybe I employ a slightly hurtful tactic in that I’m jealous of Steve… not so much that he has attracted Johnnie (I have my own Johnnie. You know how many people have met Alexis and me for the first time and said, out loud, – ‘how in the hell did a knucklehead like you get a girl like that?’) … I’m more jealous, and quite interested in, the lifetime of radio that Steve and Johnnie have lived together. It’s impressive.
And I know that it’s impressive for the three or four of you also, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Remember, I’m trying to write down my observations and happenings so that a professor at a small liberal arts college on the East Coast can one day assign my blog for students to read.
“This is what radio was like. Read it and weep.”
This professor, who in my mind wears a lambs wool sports coat with patches on the elbows, may also one day be able to assign the book that Steve and Johnnie are working on. I forgot what Steve told me the working title is, something like the title of this blog to nowhere – My Life in Radio.
Johnnie shared some stuff with us yesterday about being a woman in radio in the 70s.
“You couldn’t play two women singers in a row or you’d get in trouble with management.”
That’s surprising. I can’t imagine living in a world in which you could not play Janis Joplin then Joni Mitchell. You’d also have to throw Carole King into the mix. I know that if you’re a hard-ass construction worker type and you swear a lot, you’re not supposed to come back to your turntable and at the end of the day and put on “Tapestry,” but you know and I know that it happens. After all…
“You can’t talk to a man, with a shotgun in his hand.”
As a kid, I hung out at the Klyczek house on Manor Avenue across from Munster Lumber. My buddy Chris had an older sister named Lisa who really knew her music. Outside of being really pretty, which of course prompts fantastical images when you lay down at night, she knew all about Hegewisch Records and Three Dog Night and the Who and Led Zeppelin and, yes, Carole King. One day I was waiting for Chris to wake up and she put on Tapestry. It slapped me in the face.
“You can’t talk to a man when he don’t wanna understand.” And why would a man shoot up a whole congregation? I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. But I still listen to it.
… Since I can’t sleep past 4:30 in the morning anymore, I’ve been reading some of Steve and Johnnie’s book about knowing and interviewing Les Paul. It’s called “A Little More Les.” Les would go play a gig, most often Monday nights at the Iridium in New York, and then come home and call Steve and Johnnie on the radio in Chicago. WGN, by the way, reaches most of the way across America, so Les could listen on his way home to Mahwah, New Jersey.
Steve and Johnnie, since they’re radio people, let a story unfold gracefully. They don’t rush it with the book, just as they didn’t rush it overnight doing six hours of radio for 27 years.
So I’m reading the book and there’s a glowing Les testimonial from Charlie Daniels –
“You have to understand that there are thousands of guitar players around the world who would trade parts of their anatomy to stand on the same stage with the legendary Les Paul… “
And there’s accolade from Paul Harvey – Les has been “a star to steer by for such a long time.”
Now I don’t know about the three or four of you, but I really don’t know that much about Les Paul, other than he’s from Waukesha, Wisconsin, because it says so on the sign on the way into town… and that he made and played guitars. I know he basically invented double and triple and every other kind of tracking, and that Steve and Johnnie adored him.
But I’m sitting on the couch reading their book and I’m thinking – “there’s no way you get to be that good at what you do without a bit of cantankerousness to your character.”
I had to read deep into the book to find it - in the chapter by and about Tommy Shaw, the lead singer for Styx.
“… a local girl got up and sang before I went up… (Les) stopped her right in the middle of her song and said, “What are you doing?”
There. Now I’m getting a better picture of Les Paul. He turned out to be this likeable old man who hosted rock and country and jazz stars at a New York night club… but there had to be a time that he wasn’t always a just a likeable old man.
The author of Les’s autobiography, Michael Cochrane, gives another glimpse –
“When people heard we were going to do a book about Les Paul, they took us aside and said, ‘Boy, you guys are in for a tough time…’ he had a reputation for being a little hard to get along with…”
Now that’s a Les Paul I can admire. A cantankerous genius who could be irascible and charming in the same moment, more charming than irascible as he got old. That’s enough words for this morning – over 1500 of them. It’ll have to be enough about radio for the three or four of you until Steve and Johnnie finish their book about living a life of radio.
And by the way, if you’re reading this today and not in class 20 years from now, Steve and Johnnie are doing a book signing today at 3pm at Paul Harvey’s Art Gallery in downtown Hammond. Go to it. You won’t be disappointed.