Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 12: From Funky Town to Punky Town: The Great Disco Backlash.

Part 11 can be found here

In 1975 radio and the record companies were experiencing an almost mystical amount of musical innovation and genre-bending creativity, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the mid ‘60’s. British Rock, Southern Rock, Pop, Soul, Dance, and Country all had a piece of the action, records were flying off the shelves, and radio was the focal point of teen attention, local music scenes, and pop culture in general. Musically it was a watershed year in many ways, and personally, it was the beginning of a short, but intense period in my musical career that began with a new band that, in Montreal at least, could do no wrong.

Rand Bishop had departed the Wackers in pursuit of a solo career and Ernie Earnshaw, the Wacks’ drummer, had returned to California, so Kootch (Trochim) and I decided to keep the Wackers going until we could figure out what to do next. Enlisting our neighbor and good friend Norman Vosko on bass, his cousin Leon Holt on keyboards, and, after a hilarious series of auditions, drummer Wayne Cullen. (Wackers 2.0 pictured here. L-R Vosko, Trochim, Cullen, Segarini, Holt, and our new endorsement with Peavey) We signed a one-off record deal with Polydor records, released a single and kept playing around Montreal while we tried to recover from The Wackers failure to be the successful band we all thought it would be.

Over a period of about six months an idea began to take shape, and by late ’74, early 1975 we had our new project up and running. It would be named after a David Bowie song written for Mott the Hoople, All the Young Dudes.

While the Wackers had always been out of step with what was going on musically in the world, the new band was more attuned to the current musical landscape. Even so, what was going on in 1975 was pretty diverse.

Led Zeppelin sold out three shows at Madison Square Gardens in 4 hours, and in Boston, their fans rioted waiting for tickets to go on sale causing $30,000 damage and getting the show there cancelled, Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare tour was hailed as the most elaborate in rock history, The Who’s Tommy was released as a movie, the Rolling Stones played Brown Sugar on a flat bed truck in New York and introduced Ron Wood and their new tour, The Wiz opened on Broadway and produced a hit single 3 years before Motown turned it into a movie, the Ramones released their first single, and by the end of the year, Bohemian Rhapsody would sit on top of the charts through the first 3 weeks of 1976…and All the Young Dudes (pictured here at the Mustache) played their first gig at Café Campus at the University of Montreal and became an instant success. Within a month we were packing them in wherever we played, and for good reason. Members of the Wackers, April Wine, and Mashmakan, we were hungry and ready. We worked the clubs constantly, opened for Barry White at the Montreal Forum, did dates with Johnny Winter, and even had the studios giving us downtime, and number one AM disc jockey, CKGM’s Donnie Burns, lending us cash to do demos and shop them to the labels.

We attracted the attention of a fanzine owner and writer from Buffalo New York named Gary Sperrazza!, and the interest of old friend Greg Shaw (Bomp Records and Magazine), and old friend Kim Fowley, for whom I had produced a band, Titan, from the Maritimes.

We couldn’t get anything going with the Canadian labels, but after a glowing review in the US based Phonograph Record Magazine of a live club show in Montreal, the American labels started calling, and soon, they were flying up to Montreal to see us.

The Dudes were a harder rocking outfit than the Wackers, and the love of economically written 3 minute songs remained, but with 2 drummers, Ritchie Henman and Wayne Cullen) and 2 outstanding guitar players (David Henman and Brian Greenway) we also stretched out quite a bit. Kootch handled the rockers, David sang his own, hard rock material, and Brian came up with some beautiful ballads and some great guitar-centric ass-kickers. Me, I just kept writing all over the road. Because of the early acceptance of Disco in Montreal, thanks in part to a thriving disco dance club scene, most importantly, the Limelight, and Montreal radio playing a fair amount of it, the grooves and drum patterns found its way into some of our songs. We attacked all the material with vigor, and audiences seemed to like the blended influences the Dudes brought to the stage.

While all of this was going on, an artist I had seen in a West Orange New Jersey High School in 1972 was starting to get a serious amount of traction in the media and on radio. His name? Bruce Springsteen. Notice the disco influence in the introduction to the song, and the obvious disco club influence in the clothes and hats. In case you have forgotten, it is performances like this one (in London at the Hammersmith in 1975) that are the reason Bruce became the big star he did. What a band, and what a singer. Radio was slow to pick up on Springsteen, even with all the media attention, but once they did…holy shit! He was everywhere.

And so it was, after a whirlwind courtship with CBS Records in New York, input from Ian Hunter (pictured right) and Kim Fowley (pictured left) a management deal and the release of  our LP, ‘We’re No Angels’, we found ourselves about to embark on a 3 week tour with the Bee Gees, whose single ‘Jive Talkin’ and album ‘Main Course’ had put them back on the musical map.

I don’t know if this kind of thing could happen these days, but in 1975, if you had a good local buzz and could deliver a great live show, the labels were interested. After CBS heard our demos and had read the reviews of our live performances, they offered us the biggest advance ever given to a Canadian band by a US label at that time. The story of the ensuing album and the Bee Gees tour will have to wait for another time, but suffice it to say that it is a cautionary tale that will take a column or two to tell. The story of how we got management is also typical of the out and out energy of the music industry in those days.

The Dudes were playing a 2 night gig at Larry’s Hideaway in Toronto. The weather was abysmal and we were completely unknown in Ontario. There were 4 people in the audience plus a bartender, and a waitress. Counting our road crew, there were more of us than them. Were we discouraged? Nope. We were happy to be playing, and our bar tab was part of the deal so we were our typical, tipsy, entertaining selves. The rule was, ‘Play your heart out no matter how big the audience is’. It helped that we amused ourselves no end and usually had no idea what we were going to do on stage. One night, having two drummers, we played ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Wipe Out’ simultaneously. We were also in the habit of pulling tables and chairs up on stage and sitting around them with our guitars, drinks and cigarettes, telling stories, cracking wise, and playing tunes.

On this particular night at Larry’s, with a snow storm blowing outside like a Greek Chorus of 20 dollar hookers, we hit the stage and, loving the sound, delivered a high energy opening set of our best stuff. After the set a slick young guy in a suit came over and asked to speak to me. I went back to his table where an older gentleman was waiting. We talked. The slick Suit turned out to be Ian Hunter and Blood Sweat and Tears manager Fred Heller. His partner, who would become our attorney, was Brian Epstein’s old American partner, Nat Weiss, who years later would sign a band I produced the demos for, the Romantics, to his Nemperor Record label. They were 2 of the 4 people in the audience and had flown in unannounced to hear the band.

Goes to show you never can tell.

The FM side of radio was now beginning to show signs of its success. Playlists were being introduced and music meetings became part of the weekly process of adding records, not unlike AM radio. Some records and artists would find homes on both sides of the dial, while others would be relegated to one frequency or the other. Some FM stations started specialty programs to play otherwise unplayable artists, and record countdown shows started to appear.

In England the Sex Pistols played their first show at the end of 1975, and in 1976, the Eagles, together since 1971, receive the first ever certified Platinum record for Their Greatest Hits for over 1 million sales. Disco, meanwhile, is creating hits with K.C and the Sunshine Band, Ohio Players, Diana Ross, and the Bee Gees, whose ‘You Should Be Dancing’ sets the stage for the Disco explosion that will take place in late 1977.

1977 was a huge year in the music business. Radio was busy defining itself, making decisions that affect it to this day, and record companies continued to fulfill the role of discoverers and promoters of new music and artists, and the public? Well the public was being pulled in many directions at once…and people were beginning to take sides.

Some Highlights (and Lowlights) of 1977…

Elvis dies in Memphis at the same age as his mother when she passed away, 42.

American Bandstand celebrates its 25th Anniversary on television.

Donna Summer releases I Feel Love the first record ever produced with almost totally synthesized music.

Bohemian Rhapsody is named Best Single of the last 25 years by BPI

Marc Bolan (T-Rex) dies in a car crash

Alice Cooper enters rehab

Led Zeppelin play their last American date.

Studio 54 opens in New York City

Sid Vicious joins the Sex Pistols.

EMI releases one single by the Pistols and drops them

On March 10th A&M signs the Pistols

On March 16th A&M drops the Pistols.

Jimmy Buffet releases Margaritaville

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Cassie Gaines, Steve Gaines, and Ronnie Van Zant die in a plane crash.

The Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack is released in November, Film in December.

Hotel California, the 5th Eagles album, has sold over 16 million copies in the US alone, but was eclipsed by Saturday Night Fever by over 10 million records.

Rock was losing its place as the most popular contemporary musical genre.

The 2 disc soundtrack album for Saturday Night Fever was the tipping point. Whatever resistance radio had put up against disco dissipated like so much smoke. Overnight, disco became mainstream music and unavoidable on radio, television, and clubs. For some, this was just fine, but for others, it was the worst possible thing that could possibly happen. The Bee Gees, once a fairly well loved rock act, was now the most popular group on Earth, and music they performed, wrote, or produced, dominated every record chart in the world. Disco groups, unknown outside the walls of the clubs where the music had proliferated over the last few years exploded onto the radio and into the consciousness of Mr. and Mrs. Average Person, affecting music, lifestyle, fashion, and language. It became as ubiquitous as rock and roll had been 20 years earlier, and as pervasive and unavoidable as any pop culture phenomenon that proceeded it…Which annoyed a hell of a lot of people.

While AM radio embraced the latest craze, FM was inundated by its listeners disdain for what they considered to be plastic, mindless claptrap. Most rock acts started to take their music to the next level, with bands like Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath (pictured here) attracting more fans who took Metal and hard rock music as an antidote for the rising epidemic of dance music and leisure suits. In England, London, and Toronto, a new underground form of music was gaining ground because it was everything disco wasn’t…raw, minimalist, and urgent. With rhythm far faster than the steady thumping of dance music, and lyrics that spoke of social unrest and against complacency and middle class values, the music that rock journalist Dave Marsh first referred to as ‘Punk Rock’ was about to take on the disco juggernaut head on. It would never wrest discos hold over AM radio away, but it would create a rallying point for what was about to become a war of ideologies, musical creativity, and socio-political beliefs.  The record companies, facing musicians who did not seem to reflect the look or attitude of the existing musicians from other genres of music, were outspoken in the extreme, and peppered their music with four letter words and statements that were certain to enrage some listeners and surely create controversy. New labels would spring up to accommodate this new musical expression just like they had for disco, and some Major labels would also see the future of this upstart and open their doors, but in 1977, no one could see just how much of an impact this development would have on the status quo. Another upheaval was on the way.

Part 13…When Worlds Collide and Eras Clash…

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Segarini’s regular column appears every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, andnominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late GreatMovies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for radiothatdoesntsuck.com with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.

3 Responses to “Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 12: From Funky Town to Punky Town: The Great Disco Backlash.”

  1. Warren Cosford Says:

    Ahhh…..1977. As you write…… it was quite a year for Music. But, perhaps, an even bigger year for Toronto Radio.
    I’ll never forget driving in from vacation in June, turning on the Radio and hearing Q-107, owned by Allan Slaight a former 1050 CHUM P.D., and programmed by Dave Charles a former CHUM Jock, had just signed on air. As if that wasn’t enough, I read in the paper that CFNY Brampton had been granted a power increase to 100,000 watts with a new transmitter overlooking Toronto and would be programmed by former CHUM-FM Announcer David Pritichard. As if that wasn’t enough….I reported in for work Monday to discovered that I was now P.D. of CHUM-FM.

  2. In 1977 I was working at a small record store in north Seattle called Everybody’s Record Company. It was part of an Oregon based chain of about 9 stores. At the store I worked at, Saturday Night Fever never made the Top Ten (in actual sales) until the head office forced us to play the darn thing in store way more than we wanted to hear it. At the other stores it was already selling number one. We were selling the rock and punk stuff. It was almost like High Fidelity there. Loved it.

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