Posts Tagged ‘Kingsmen’

Andy Hilger, 1930-2013

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

St. Cloud radio man – and so much more – Andy Hilger passed away Sunday. When I was growing up, I’d hear his editorials on WJON, the radio station just down the street and across the railroad tracks from our house. But even when I got to know a few people in St. Cloud’s radio community during college, I never knew Andy Hilger. Faithful reader and friend Yah Shure did, however, and he was kind enough to craft a remembrance:

Andy Hilger dropped by a small, 250-watt radio station in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on his way through town in 1958 and asked if there were any job opportunities. By the time he’d sold 1000-watt WJON and its more-powerful sister stations in 1999, they were worth nearly thirteen million dollars. I still have a copy of the 1980 or ’81 front page St. Cloud Daily Times story in which Andy was named the most influential person in the community. It was not an exaggeration. My former WJON co-worker Jim and I were astonished to read things about Andy’s pre-St. Cloud life in his obituary that we’d never known about. It doesn’t seem fair that Alzheimer’s should have ended such a remarkable run for such a remarkable man.

By the time I first got a foot in the door as a salesman (thank you, Marsh), Andy had transitioned out of some of the day-to-day operations of his WJON/WWJO radio stations. Direct selling was not my strong suit, and after two months, I’d come to a crossroads regarding my future at the place. As I departed a meeting with the stations’ two sales managers, I was met in the hallway by Tom Kay, WJON’s program director. He asked me how the meeting had gone, then beckoned me into his office. Tom was in the process of creating another airshift and strongly encouraged me to apply for the position, which I did. Tom didn’t mention this to me until much later, but when he ran the candidates for the position past the station higher-ups, Andy was of the opinion that if I couldn’t cut it as a salesman, he wasn’t at all convinced that I could cut it on the other side of the glass. Having already been familiar with my college radio background, Tom was able to convince Andy otherwise. While it wasn’t uncommon for former air talent to move into sales, no one at WJON had ever previously chosen the opposite path.

WJON was something of a family operation. Andy’s wife Carol handled the payroll, and the Hilger children were sometimes underfoot. Several staffers happened to be in the lobby when daughter Mollie, who was maybe six or seven years old at the time, was running her toy vacuum cleaner over the carpet. During a lull in the conversation, Mollie blurted out, “My daddy’s going to sell this place!” You could have heard a pin drop. Kids really do say the darndest things.

By 1979, Andy was in the process of building a new house for the Hilger family. WJON had a Heathkit weather station in the on-air studio, so that current weather conditions could be tracked after the St. Cloud National Weather Service office shut down each day at 5 p.m. The temperature sensor for the WJON weather station was housed in a small structure with a shingled top and louvered sides, mounted on a short pole in the yard behind the since-demolished old cinderblock studio/office building on Lincoln Avenue Southeast. A buried wire connected the sensor to the Heathkit unit inside the studio.

One day, the temperature readings on the Heathkit went completely haywire, and after some investigation, it was discovered that the louvered structure had been stolen, lock, stock and broken wire. Morning man Galen Johnson was outraged at the mere thought that some lowlife vandal would abscond with the station’s valuable weather instruments as he speculated on-air about who the perpetrator might have been. This went on for several days before the controversy ended as quickly as it had begun. It seems that Andy had thought the structure was actually a birdhouse, and he’d taken it upon himself to transplant it to the new Hilger residence without consulting anyone. His rather sheepish admission of guilt ended the mystery on a typically quiet note.

Andy was a man whose Christian roots and conservative leanings were as deeply embedded in the community as the city’s namesake granite deposits. Although he tended to maintain a general hands-off approach to the music and personality aspects of WJON’s full-service programming, there were times when he did object if he felt things contradicted his beliefs. When a prominent station client threatened to pull advertising from the station, the Edict of Sister Mary Elephant was handed down, barring further play of the Cheech & Chong novelty hit with the screaming nun. Likewise, Billy Joel’s chart-climber “Only The Good Die Young” was quickly scuttled from the WJON playlist after Andy determined the song’s “Catholic girls start much too late” line was one toke over the line for such a Catholic-dominated community. Only Casey Kasem was allowed to override the ban whenever the song appeared on the weekly American Top 40 countdown show.

From very early on, Andy became very active in the St. Cloud community, as did his WJON, which cemented a tight bond between the listeners and “their” station. Ironically, Andy’s hands-off approach to programming meant that he also didn’t go out of his way to get to know his own airstaff very well. One-on-one face time with Andy was relegated to once per year. As the spearhead of the area’s annual United Way drive, Andy would have the station’s receptionist call each of us at home, telling us when to see Andy in his office to discuss our annual “contribution.” Had Andy taken the incentive to sit down and chat at other times, the airstaff might not have been left harboring a bitter aftertaste toward the United Way.

Andy discovered that the ideal way to tout his views were through daily station editorials. These usually tackled local political and community issues, with equal time always provided for opposing opinions. If nothing else, Andy was a fair man, and his reasoning was well-thought out. However, on one winter’s day in early 1981, Andy dropped the ball.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, the Minneapolis Tribune had run a story about the Kingsmen’s 1963 hit, “Louie, Louie,” rehashing the controversy over the song’s allegedly dirty lyrics that had arisen when the song was a hit. Back in 1963, my mother had sat down with me after I’d bought the single, and after playing it all four speeds, gave the record a clean bill of health. (There have since been those who claim that the drummer uttered an obscenity after having dropped a stick. My own take is that they would have stopped the tape at that point if he had. In any event, it wouldn’t have been part of the song’s lyrics.) The Tribune article also printed the complete lyrics to the song as originally written by Richard Berry, which was the first time I’d actually read them. All those garbled words really added up to a Jamaican love song? Who knew?

Not Andy Hilger, apparently. When I heard his WJON editorial run one morning a few weeks later, he’d climbed high on his soapbox, denouncing the record as unfit for human consumption. But Andy never did bring up any of the actual lyrics to prove his case. He was simply restating the hearsay stemming from the 1963 controversy.

When my nightly oldies show began following the station’s ten o’clock news that evening, I let fly the first record I’d cued up: Wand Records single 143. “Dooo-do-do-do. Do-do. Do-do-do. Do-do . . .” Two minutes and forty seconds later, I recited the newspaper article’s printed words to “Louie, Louie,” then went on with the show. I never heard one word about it. Ever since then, whenever I hear the Kingsmen start to play, I’m reminded that my little act of rebelliousness was nothing more than helping to keep a fair man fair.

Here’s a link to the St. Cloud Times’ coverage of Andy Hilger’s passing.

Incorrect date changed since first posting.

Chart Digging: Mid-October 1964

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Having been distracted and interrupted last time out by the Everly Brothers’ “Gone, Gone, Gone” and the resulting covers, I went back this morning to the Billboard Hot 100 for October 17, 1964, forty-seven years ago last Monday.

A look at that week’s Top Ten is intriguing:

“Do Wah Diddy Diddy” by Manfred Mann
“Dancing In The Street” by Martha & The Vandellas
“Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison & The Candy Men
“We’ll Sing In The Sunshine” by Gale Garnett
“Last Kiss” by Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers
“Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)” by the Shangri-Las
“A Summer Song” by Chad & Jeremy
“It Hurts To Be In Love” by Gene Pitney
“When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)” by the Beach Boys
“Let It Be Me” by Betty Everett & Jerry Butler

Boy, with the exception of Manfred Mann’s No. 1 record and the Chad & Jeremy tune, that Top Ten looks pretty much like the British Invasion had been thwarted at the Atlantic shore. (Gale Garnett was New Zealand-born but came to the U.S. before she was ten, and her record is pretty close to traditional pop or maybe even country; the recording academy called it folk and gave her a Grammy for it.) There are all sorts of sounds and styles in that Top Ten.

What I wondered was: Where were the Beatles when we got to mid-October? I found their cover of Carl Perkin’s “Matchbox” sitting at its peak of No. 17, and “Slow Down” was sitting at No. 39, on its way to No. 25. They hadn’t had a Top Ten record since “A Hard Day’s Night” topped the charts in August (although they’d had seven records in the Hot 100 during that time, four of them – including “Matchbox” and “Slow Down” – peaking in the Top 40.) This was, in fact, a minor lull, one that would end in five or so weeks, with Beatles releasing four Top Ten hits – “I Feel Fine,” “She’s A Woman,” “Eight Days A Week” and “Ticket To Ride” – between early December 1964 and late April 1965.

As to other Brit groups and performers, the highest I find is the Honeycombs, whose “Have I The Right” was sitting at No. 20 on its way to No. 5. In the rest of the Top 40, we find numerous British acts – the Nashville Teens, Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas, the Animals and others – so this is a chart that shows the transition created by the British Invasion underway but not complete, as I see it.

I should note that the Top Ten would be, for the most part, a good stretch of listening. I love “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” and “Dancing In The Street,” and – with one exception – the rest of those ten are good, if not favorites. The exception? I dislike “Last Kiss” intensely.

As always, though, I did some digging for nuggets in the lower portions of that Hot 100 from forty-seven years ago, and found a few things worth some attention. Among them is another tune about bereavement: “Death of an Angel” by the Kingsmen. With its garage-rock rhythm and riffs, it almost seems to be a better fit for 1966 than 1964, but then, the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” always sounds like it belongs to a year later than 1963, when it went to No. 2. “Death of an Angel” didn’t do nearly as well as “Louie, Louie”, though. Forty-seven years ago this week, it was sitting at No. 53, on its way to a peak of No. 42. (The Kingsmen would have their second and last Top Ten hit in early 1965 with the novelty “Jolly Green Giant.”)

In October 1964, Columbia still hadn’t figured out what to do with Aretha Franklin. She’d had eleven records in or near the Hot 100, but only one of them had found its way into the Top 40, and not that far in at that: “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” had gone to No. 37 in the autumn of 1961. Columbia would eventually give up, and starting in 1967, Aretha would become a legend on Atlantic. But in the autumn of 1964, Columbia was still trying, and in mid-October, Aretha’s “Runnin’ Out Of Fools” was sitting at No.78, on its way to No. 57. (The record went to No. 30 on the R&B chart.) I don’t know how the studio version sounded, but when Aretha sang the song on the December 2, 1964, episode of Shindig!, there were hints of the Aretha to come:

Garnet Mimms is probably best known for recording the original version of “Cry Baby,” the Bert Berns/Jerry Ragovoy song that Janis Joplin covered on 1971’s posthumously released Pearl. Mimms’ 1963 version – credited to Garnet Mimms & The Enchanters (although Joel Whitburn notes that the backing singers were actually the Sweet Inspirations) – went to No. 4 on the pop chart and spent three weeks atop the R&B chart. After that, two late 1963 records with the Enchanters reached the lower half of the Top 40, another peaked at No. 78, and two 1964 solo releases stalled short of the Top 40. So in mid-October 1964, Mimms was still seeking another Top Ten hit, and his “Look Away” was sitting at No. 89. The record didn’t do all that well – peaking at No. 73 – but what interests me is that the song tells pretty much the same tale as did Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By” when it went to No. 6 in the spring of 1964.

The records presented here when I do my chart digging are generally lesser-known titles (sometimes deservedly so) or by lesser-known performers (ditto). But last evening, the RealPlayer settled on Jackie DeShannon’s original version of “When You Walk In The Room,” and when I saw the Searchers’ cover listed at No. 97 in the October 17, 1964, Hot 100, I knew that I had to offer it here. The Liverpool group’s defining hit, “Needles and Pins,” had gone to No. 13 in the spring of 1964, and four more singles reached the Hot 100 by the end of the summer, with two of those reaching the Top 40. “When You Walk In The Room” would peak at No. 35, and why it didn’t go higher is a mystery to me (as is the fact that DeShannon’s original only got to No. 99 in January of 1964). Both versions are great records.

I mentioned the Ventures in my last post, noting that the group placed “twenty-five records in or near the Hot 100, including Top Ten hits in 1960 and 1964 with two versions of ‘Walk – Don’t Run’ and then in 1969 with ‘Hawaii Five-O’.” I also noted that I like pretty much anything the Ventures did, and that includes the cover of “Slaughter on 10th Avenue” that was bubbling under the Hot 100 at No. 109 when mid-October rolled around in 1964. The record would go to No. 35 and would be the group’s last Top 40 hit until “Hawaii Five-O” rolled around in 1969. (It’s interesting to note that the flip side of “Slaughter” also got a little airplay, bubbling under at No. 135: “Rap City” was based on Johannes Brahms’ familiar “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5.”)

I know next-to-nothing about the Chartbusters. Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles tells me that they were a garage-rock band from Washington, D.C., and that earlier in 1964, they’d had “She’s The One” go to No. 33. (Based on my listening this morning, I’d never heard the record before.) They were back on the chart in mid-October, when “Why (Doncha Be My Girl)” was bubbling under at No. 122. A decent piece of garage rock, the record would get to No. 92. The Chartbusters had one more record of note: A live version of “New Orleans” would bubble under for one week at No. 134 during the summer of 1965.