Sh-Boom! Clay Cole! Rock & Roll!
by Ray D'Ariano
A long time ago in a galaxy far away, one without cable, Fuse, iTunes or iPods, the greatest rock and roll band of all time….The Rolling Stones made their American television debut. It did not happen on any of the networks, not on the Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig, or Hullaballoo, but on local Channel 11 in New York City. The Rolling Stones debuted on The Clay Cole Show. That fact alone should spark your interest in Clay’s cool new book…."Sh-Boom! The Explosion of Rock ‘N’ Roll 1953 – 1968."
A few years before we got our first look at Mick & Keith, my generation were the pre-Beatles, The Eve Of Destruction, LSD, San Francisco, wear some flowers in your hair, Fillmore East, one toke over the line baby boomers. The 60’s had just begun, our hormones were raging, we wore loafers on our feet and Clearasil on our face, and didn’t have a clue about what the rest of the decade would bring.
If you were a kid back then your transistor radio was your constant companion. We got our daily dose of rock and roll from Dandy Dan Daniel and his WMCA Good Guy survey. In the evenings the sounds came from Scotland’s Yard hosted by gravelly-voiced Scott Muni on WABC, or maybe we’d do some submarine race watching while listening to Murray the K on 1010 WINS. On a school night in the early 60’s we’d have our impressionable little minds blown with tunes like "Sherry" from The Four Seasons, The Isley Brothers’ "Twist & Shout," "Runaway" by Del Shannon or Little Eva singing about "The Locomotion"…. Good stuff, that second wave of early 60’s rock and roll… amazing is more like it.
But early on Saturday evenings we turned off our radios – at least for an hour – and turned on The Clay Cole Show on TV. Everybody watched and before the show ended its run, everybody was on: The Beatles, Richard Pryor, Paul Anka, Donovan, Dion, The Turtles, Stevie Wonder, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, The Who, The 5th Dimension, The Young Rascals, Peter Paul & Mary, Tony Bennett, George Carlin, The Skyliners, Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, Herman’s Hermits, Little Anthony and The Imperials, and The Firesign Theater and well, like I said . . . Everybody.
Now, several decades after the last broadcast, Clay has written an essential and entertaining book that chronicles this remarkable chapter in rock and roll, and also tells his personal story with humor and candor. "Sh-Boom – The Explosion of Rock ‘N’ Roll 1953 – 1968" is a must read for anyone who ever danced to the music, bought a 45, or owned a transistor radio. This is it – the book that tells the entire story of the inner workings of the music industry that delivered the soundtrack of our youth and the TV show that brought the music to the Big Apple, Brooklyn, Long Island, Jersey and da Bronx.
Dick Clark hosted American Bandstand, the daily dance party that was broadcast coast to coast, but he had nothing on Clay Cole. Of course, Clay’s show featured the dancing and the guests, but it had two other magical ingredients that neither Clark nor any other show in the world had… New York City and Clay Cole. This was our New York rock and roll show, it had attitude, it had a street-wise hipness and it had style. We weren’t really the American Graffiti crowd. Happy Days and the Fonz? No that wasn’t New Yawk. This wasn’t Philly with line dances either, and we sure weren’t anything like our peers on the West Coast. Clay writes, "East Coast teens could care less about the Beach Boys’ sun-bleached ditties. Show me a kid in the Bronx who aspired to be a surfer and drive a little deuce coupe. A ‘woody’ in the Bronx held a whole different meaning."
Dion, The King of the New York streets and the greatest rock and roller from the Bronx comments, "Clay Cole. Saturday night. Rock ‘n roll, New York City. Glued to the tube. I should know I was there." He was there… just like he was on the cover of Sgt. Pepper… just like he was with Buddy Holly the night before the music died… Dion is the real deal and he knows Clay was the real deal too.
Now some of you may be thinking you know your stuff too, but there’s always more to learn and Mr. Cole has loaded gems of information for you between the covers of this tome. For example, do you know the reason Dion did not take the plane ride that killed Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Richie Valens? It’s in the book. Did you know that 14-year-old Paul McCartney composed "When I’m 64," a tune that appeared years later on Pepper, as a birthday present for his dad? Did you know that Richie Havens, the man most associated with Woodstock – three days of love, peace, and music – was once a member of a Bed Sty street gang? The book has hundreds of fascinating facts about our artists and their records and Professor Cole dedicates entire chapters to Motown, Girl Groups and more. The chapter on the British Invasion is amazing and features a story about how Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons wanted to record some of the early Beatles music before the Fabs even arrived in America. It also contains the entire story behind The Beatles’ first Carnegie Hall concert and also the devastating impact the British groups had on American artists. Careers were abruptly ended almost overnight.
You’ll learn that while thousands of American birds were screaming for the Dave Clark 5, The Animals, The Searchers, The Zombies, and all the others, there was a darker side to the invasion. "Rifle-toting vigilantes fired on tour buses…..Much like the fear and loathing many black entertainers encountered while touring throughout the South, the new British groups experienced America’s newest twisted bias….long hair. A bunch of long-haired freaks, strolling into an all night Midwestern diner, became subjects of ridicule and revulsion." Clay covers it all – the good, the bad and the ugly.
For example… The Good: "Clay Cole’s Christmas Show at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater broke all attendance records… the all-time box office record… that stands to this day. The show starred Little Anthony and The Imperials, Dante and The Evergreens, Bo Diddly, Bobby Vee, Chubby Checker, The Skyliners, The Shirelles, The Coasters, The Drifters, Neil Sedaka, Dion and more.
The Bad: The Payola Scandal…. "Payola, the old-timers agreed, that’s what the trouble was. ‘Slip a disc jockey a few bucks and you had a hit record.’ Eliminating payola, they thought, would effectively finish off this decadent teenage music once and for all."
The Ugly: The story of Clay’s disturbing meeting with The WPIX General Manager who "was telling me that I had welcomed too many black artists on my show. (It) seared my gut, vibrated my brain. I was seething." Clay responded with a unique presentation, "Our ‘Salute to Motown’ went on the air with Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Mary Wells, Martha & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Tammi Terrell & Marvin Gaye, and comic Willie Tyler & Lester, the greatest hour of all black artists assembled up to that time."
In addition "Sh-Boom!" tells the story of his amazing journey from Ohio to Broadway in a rare and candid style. When the TV show ended and Clay moved out of the spotlight and into the reality of show biz, things were more complex. The book tells the story of a real human being who had to deal with the sometimes harsh and cold problems of big-time show biz, like the night the mob busted up his nightclub in an attempt to take over a piece of the action.
The book is jam packed with the entertainers’ personal memories and not for nuthin’, the man can write. "It was the breathtaking ‘Autumn in New York’ evening when Daylight Savings Time ends, and the late afternoon darkness stuns in the most agreeable way. I felt like a snap of wind, the sound of rustling leaves brushing along the gutters and cabbies honking a fanfare, as if sensing the euphoria in the air. Manhattan is always a fast-moving town, but in the Autumn the pace quickens. Laughing couples, bundled together to hug off the chill, were bustling about, anticipating a night on the town, perhaps dinner and a show. Damn, it was great to be alive."
To the millions of New York teenagers growing up in the 60’s who watched his shows on TV or caught him live at all those amazing gigs at Palisades Park or the Apollo Theater or wherever, he made us glad we were alive too. The Clay Cole Show was a party, a celebration of all that was right with rock and roll. It was cool and so is "Sh-Boom."
Thanks for the memories Mr. Cole.
"Sh-Boom! The Explosion of Rock ‘N’ Roll 1953 – 1968." is available from Morgan James Publishing October 1, 2009. Pre-order at Amazon.com.
Check out Clay Cole’s official web site www.claycoleshow.com