I was a green pea and everyone at Mercury-Chicago knew it. At that time many record companies distributed through independent rack jobbers or distributors. I worked for Southern Record Distributors on Luckie Street in downtown Atlanta. The distributorship was run by a guy named Frank Ryall, whose background was not the record business, but books. I can't remember exactly why he was running the place, but he wasn't really in his element and therefore gave me little or no guidance. I kind of knew what my job was by virtue of the fact that I regularly went to Southern, Southland Distributors, Capitol, RCA, Liberty begging for DJ copies of records for my radio show. I had never seen so many records in my life and the office was a wreck. I got organized then started asking for help from the regional promotion guys for my labels. Romeo Davis was the Smash regional man out of Charlotte. He immediately became my mentor. Romeo was so smooth and polished, yet sincere. The very hint that he was bogus was very upsetting to him. He loved the music business. Romeo was also a gentleman. Now, I was raised to be polite and respectful, but there's a difference in being those things and being a gentleman. Romeo could charm the britches off any woman he met. He introduced me to fancy restaurants. He also encouraged me to change my wardrobe. Romeo wore mohair suits and zippered boots. I didn't even know where to buy those kind of clothes.
I was in awe as I walked into all the stations in Atlanta. Of course I had already been to WQXI, but I'll never forget the first time I walked into White Columns, the home of WSB radio and television.
It was a replica of a grand Southern plantation house (the suits tore it down and replaced it with a glass and steel monolith) on Peachtree Street. The Crossroads, a popular seafood restaurant, and Mammy's Shanty ("World Famous Pecan Pie", held by a mammy in neon on the sign out front) were just across from WSB.
I was led to Bob Van Camp's office; he was the music director and also organist at the Fox Theatre. The music library was huge. I believe they kept every record received; in reality, they kept several copies of records added to play list. I took him "Winchester Cathedral" by the New Vaudeville Band, he loved it and took it right into the announcer for a show called "Carousel" and as I left the station it was playing on the air. Usually, it took several weeks for a "hit" to get on the WSB play list. I felt extremely proud; I had gotten a record added quickly. Also, Van Camp was impossible to "get to" with favors for airplay.
Bob Van Camp at the organ
There was a country station in Forrest Park and another in downtown Atlanta. There were two black stations in Atlanta, WAOK and WIGO and others in Augusta, Savannah, Birmingham, and Montgomery. Smash had James Brown, Anna King, & Bobby Bird. Mercury had The Platters, Brook Benton, Johnny Mathis, and Timi Yuro. And there was jazz on Limelight by Art Blakey, Gerry Mulligan, and others. I loved going to the R&B stations because I loved the music. At one of the stations, I quickly learned it was SOP to carry an album box with two bottles of Johnny Walker Scotch inside and place it on the floor beside the music directors desk. I always got my records added after learning the drill. One of the biggest shocks of my life was when a music director at an R&B station was convicted of taking payola. The guy had never indicated to me that it took anything more than good service to get my records played. I also went to Paschal's La Carousel when our R&B artists appeared there.
WPLO was WQXI's competition. I had strong loyalties to Quixie because of my "Beatles" experience and I had become close friends with the all night jocks, the Collins Twins. I worked late a lot of nights when artists were in town and would stop by WQXI after midnight with meatball sandwiches from Biuso's for the twins. The station was in an old house on Matheson Drive in Buckhead. I loved that place. I called on the music director to promote my records. I didn't have a lot of luck except when Romeo went with me. My bosses at Phillips and Mercury were pressuring me big time. Finally, one of them told me to go straight to the top, Kent Burkhart, General Manager of WQXI. I was instructed to say "what do I have to do to get a record on WQXI, get somebody laid?". I did it and Kent immediately ushered me out of his office. He even called the national guy who had sent me to fall on my saber. Kent called me and asked me to come back to the station, realizing that I was just following orders. We have been friends ever since.
Thanks to Paul Allen and wakeAtlanta.com.
Romeo came to town and told me there was a station I needed to call on, because it covered a portion of North Atlanta and all of Marietta. Additionally, neither WQXI or WPLO's signal covered those areas at night, therefore WFOM in Marietta was the station for Top 40 in Cobb County. We headed to the station to meet Jim Davenport, General Manager and music director. It was late afternoon and by the time we got there. We sat down in his office, roughly 8'X12' and he immediately started asking me about my background. As the conversation turned to records, Jim reached in his desk drawer, pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniels, and asked his secretary to bring some Cokes. Romeo took the bottle of Jack, took a healthy draw, then chased it with Coca Cola. I'm sure my eyes were as big as 45's as Jim offered me the bottle. My drinking experience consisted of beer and on one occasion moonshine. I managed to take my turn at the jug and I'm sure Jim and Romeo were holding in large guffaws. Jim called home and told his wife he was bringing Romeo and me home with him; he wanted steaks for dinner. Romeo said we would stop and pick up wine. We went to Jim's house and I met Carole Davenport, who Jim called "Sara". I was confused, but kept listening to story after story told by Jim and Romeo as they kept slugging the Jack Daniels. I think I had a beer. Finally, about 10:00PM, Sara called us to dinner. Romeo poured wine, Vin Rose, for Jim, me and himself; Sara disappeared. Before the evening was over, Jim offered me a weekend shift at WFOM. I was elated! While the promotion job was exciting, I missed being on the air. WFOM had all the bells and whistles that WQXI had, in other words good equipment. Unlike WQXI, Jim had a structured format, something I had only seen one other place, Paul Drew's show on Quixie. Paul and Jimmy had a mutual friend, Phil Yarborough, who had been PD at WAKE, an earlier top 40 station in Atlanta. Phil had since left Atlanta for California; Bill Drake, the name he used on the radio, had left an impression of the future of top 40 on both of them. I had made a new friend, gotten a weekend shift at a real Top 40 station, and I was on top of the world.
Courtesy of Robert Read
Every Friday night was "record" night at WFOM. If you wanted your record considered for airplay, you showed up, usually with a bottle of Jack Daniels, although not required, and your "push" records for the week. Everyone crowded into Jim's office and he played the records and we all voted on whether or not it should be added. I had to carefully choose one or two new releases I wanted him to add. If you brought too many in, everyone got mad. Also, voting against someone else's record almost certainly got you a "no" vote on one of yours. The whole exercise was really a lot of fun. Jim, or Jimmy, as I now knew him, made up his on mind about what to add and the voting part had another purpose, it kept all of us aware of all the product out there; it was almost a warm up for the tougher big station music directors. These meeting usually ended with a trip to Atlanta in search of what else, women. While there were plenty of women available, some guys were married and the convenience of hookers was preferred. Liberal expense accounts meant not only could a promotion man have a music director attended to, but himself as well. The hooks liked us because many times we'd take them along to dinner at a nice restaurant and treat them like royalty. Some guys had hooks they would fly in from other cities because of their special talents. The Memphis Mechanic was know far and wide for her oral abilities. I met her once, but never availed myself of her services. Usually, if a music director wanted it, he got it, at least when it came to women. Of course there were other means of persuading an music director guy to add a record. I was in a station one day in the music director's office just after an veteran promo guy had been there. I happened to glance over at the music directors trash can and saw wadded up money. I reached in and unfolded the bill, it was a hundred. It was the guys way of taking care of business. As he sat there with the music director listening to records, he shot baskets with wadded up bills. If it was a record the guy really needed, he'd double or triple up while it was playing. Usually, the music director would close his door after the guy left and empty the "trash", he forgot that day.
I always liked working with artists. I went to Montgomery, Alabama to work a show with James Brown. I went to the motel where James and troupe were staying. After a considerable amount of explanation of who I was and why I was there the reluctant desk clerk rang his suite. A few minutes later a large black man opened the lobby door; "you John Long?" he said, as if I were an uninvited guest. I nodded yes and he motioned for me to follow him. At first I couldn't believe that many people could fit into a hotel room. I saw money, lying everywhere (it was a test of loyalty). Then I saw a large throne-like chair with several young black women hovering about; it's back was to the rest of the room. My escort placed me out of the way and told me "wait right here". In a moment, he went over to the throne and then motioned me over. There he was, the hardest working man in show business, Mr. Please Please Me, The King Of Soul, barefooted, wearing a gold bathrobe smoking jacket thing, with pin curlers in his hair. One of his female attendants was massaging his feet. James was impressed with the fact that (a) a young (I was only 20) white man would come to his motel and (b) that anyone from the record company would even show up (James would soon leave Smash for another label). He couldn't have been nicer and told me to come to the show that night at a black club, and ask for one of his assistants when I arrived. I didn't feel uncomfortable going to the club. I think the other patrons were more curious at the sight of a lone white person in their presence. I was ushered to a table up front where the female assistants I had seen earlier were seated. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn't much of a drinker, although I had begun to do more since getting into the fast lane. Well, if I had drunk everything that was brought to me that night, I would have been on the floor. I was there for two reasons, I dug James Brown and it was my job. Bobby Bird and Anna King sang "Baby, Baby, Baby" and I was on my feet with everyone else...getting down with my bad self. Then came the King. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life. James was everything he proclaimed to be, only more. I ran into James in Augusta a year or so ago, walked up and spoke and unbelievably he remembered me, and that time in Montgomery.
Chick Hedrick's Domino Lounge was in the Imperial Hotel in downtown Atlanta and booked the semi-big acts, the ones either on their way up or down. When the headliner wasn't performing there were exotic dancers. Brother Dave Gardner, Wayne Newton, Bob Newhart were just a few names that appeared at the Domino. Another was Roger Miller. I got a call from the Smash Records national VP of promotion informing me Roger was going to appear there for a week and I was to personally see that he got on every radio station that would interview him. He'd had a couple of hits, "Chug-A-Lug"," Dang, Me" and had just released "King Of The Road". Rogers reputation preceded him. He was known as a pretty wacky guy and was rumored to use a lot of prescription medicine. The salesman for our branch set up an in-store autograph session in Birmingham at a big department store's record department. I set up interviews on "Today In Georgia" with Ruth Kent on WSB Television and interviews on several stations. I met Roger and new wife at the club opening night. He was cordial, but a little irritable due to the fact that prior to coming to Atlanta he had temporary caps put on his teeth. His wife on the other hand was extremely nice and listened as I discussed promotional plans for the week. She assured me that "they" would make it to every interview and appearance including the one in Birmingham. Romeo had called to see if I needed anything and told me he'd be in Atlanta to accompany us to Birmingham. Opening night went well, the next day we did some interviews and that night was OK, but the third night a drunk heckler got under Rogers' skin and he came back at the guy with a putdown. If you wanted to trade verbal jabs with Roger, you'd better pack a lunch, instead the drunk had a gun in his waistband. Roger undid his guitar and stepped off the stage and back to his dressing room. Everyone was in shock, and an exotic dancer quickly took the stage. I went backstage just in time to see Roger, his wife, and his guitar case get into a cab. I jumped in my car and followed them to the hotel. Rogers wife was standing at the desk; he had already gone upstairs. She told me they were checking out and flying to Nashville. I called Romeo and he told me to stay with him period, even if that meant going to Nashville. I went to the airport, bought a ticket on the only flight out that night and went to the gate to wait. Roger looked surprised to see me, but, quickly realized I was just doing my job. When we got to Nashville, he told me to ride with them to a hotel. What I didn't know was that Romeo had called Buddy Killen, the Nashville Smash honcho and Rogers producer. Apparently Killen caught Roger just before he left the hotel and explained some things to him. The Birmingham record department would not be missed, it was the branch's largest account. Roger promised to fly there the next day. I was along to make sure it happened. We checked in the hotel and Roger wanted to go to Printer's Alley. I had know idea what or where it was. We parked and went into a club where Boots Randolph was playing. Eddy Arnold came over to speak to Roger. Another country star, so drunk he could barely walk, mumbled something before someone helped him toward the door. The next morning, Roger took me to a clothing store and bought me a fresh shirt and tie since I'd brought nothing with me. We made the Birmingham appearance, Romeo met us there and afterwards we put Roger back on a plane to Nashville. Romeo and I boarded a flight back to Atlanta in the middle of a thunderstorm. That was the worst airplane ride in my life. I had already silent said my prayers. We finally arrived in Atlanta and went straight to the bar at Aunt Fanny's cabin.
I was doing my promotion duties during the week, but I couldn't wait until Sunday nights when I did my shift at WFOM. I was playing the hits, taking requests and dedication, and talking to the endless supply of groupies who called the station. I wasn't a virgin and had just had enough experience that I wanted more, plus, I wanted to be like Romeo. I never knew him to be unfaithful, but if had wanted to, there would have been a line of women waiting for their shot. The girls who called the station were mostly young, however, every now and then, I met someone my age. Being a DJ was impressive enough, but, being in the music business made the girls mad. Had I met any artists? Could I introduce them to any artists? Of course I showered them with free 45's and albums, and when I could arrange it Phillips 8-track tape players and tapes. My friendship with Jimmy Davenport had grown into more than a professional one. I spent more and more time at his home where I was treated like one of the family. His kids were quite young and that occupied Sara's time. I was always hanging out with Jimmy. We'd go to good restaurants, the clubs, and generally just have a good time. My Mercury bosses would come to town and they seemed impressed because I was so "tight" with him. Fact was, I never did anything for him like buy dinner or whiskey or anything; it wasn't allowed. It wasn't just me that he wouldn't let pay for anything, it was anybody in the record business that wanted to spend time with him. He told me that he didn't want to be in anyone's debt, especially someone in the record business. He became almost a second father to me. My Dad never really talked to me man-to-man about anything but religion. Don't get me wrong I loved my Dad dearly, but there were certain things I couldn't talk to him about. I could talk to Jim about anything. I had begun to lose the innocence of my youth as I watched and learned about some of the finer things in life as well as some, more exotic. One Sunday night while I was on WFOM, I got a call from Red Jones, PD at WQXI. He asked me if I would be interested in working there on weekends. I jumped at the chance and Jimmy understood.
I replaced Kahn Hamon when he went over to the competition, WPLO
Survey compliments of Sam Hale
Life was good. I was in the record business and working at WQXI, my dream job. Even though I only worked overnights on the weekends I was there almost nightly hanging out with the Collins twins. They were from New York and dressed like Romeo and had zippered Verde boots. They took me to a shoe store downtown and I bought a pair. I also got rid of the cuffs on my slacks and bought some shirts with long pointy collars. The Beatles came to Atlanta and WQXI was the sponsoring station. It was my second time to be at a Beatles press conference, only this time, I "belonged there". I met a guy named George Klein from a Memphis station, WHBQ. We took pictures of each other with the Fab Four and asked questions, then exchanged interview tapes. Paul Drew was sort of in charge since he was our "5th Beatle."
Paul and me backstage at Beatles concert in Atlanta in 1965
Paul, Me, and Ringo
The Beach Boys came to Atlanta for a concert at the Civic Auditorium. WQXI was the sponsoring station. I was spotted backstage by one of the jocks from WPLO. The next week when I went to call on the PD at WPLO, he wouldn't see me. Frankly, I began to neglect my responsibilities as a promotion man. All I really wanted to do was work at WQXI. The PD at WPLO expressed his displeasure at the fact that I was promoting records to him, while working for their arch rival. Something had to give. Mercury decided to bring in a new branch manager from Miami. He was very "hip" & "continental". The first week there, he walked into my office and placed a large bundle of laundry on my desk. I looked puzzled. "Take these out for me, light starch, and pick 'me up and put it on your expenses account" were his instructions. I just wasn't his kind of guy; not slick enough. I'm sure he thought I was just a bumpkin. I thought he was slimy. We parted company and I hung on to my job at WQXI for a while. I had to move back home and that was pretty embarrassing, particularly when it came to my old high school and college friends. I HAD big timed it a little bit and now I had to eat crow. I worked for a while at WLBB in Carrollton, Georgia. I was hired to do the afternoon shift, but when the operations manager found out I was still working weekends at WQXI, he talked the GM into making me do mornings also. He knew that would mean no more weekend work at WQXI since I did Sunday nights at midnight until six Monday morning. I was driving 40 miles every morning to do the sign on shift, then I had to do afternoons. In the middle of the day I slept on a lawn chair in the station's old music library. I really hated it and the operations manager hated me because that was the biggest station he'd every worked for and I had mouthed off about "the way things were done at WQXI". I finally told them where they could stick the job. By the end of 1965, I decided to return to college, partly because I thought I was finished in radio and records and also, Viet Nam was calling. In early 1966 I got a call from Paul Drew, now PD at WQXI, wanting me to come do the all night shift. I couldn't withdraw from school because my folks had paid my tuition. I was sick.
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