Doug Thompson: CONFESSIONS OF A PROFESSIONAL ROCK AND ROLL INTERVIEWER – “WELCOME BACK…TO THAT SAME PLACE OLD PLACE THAT YOU LAUGHED ABOUT”.

Doug Thompson headshotI really started interviewing musicians and other celebrities in earnest in the mid 1970’s.  Several friends of mine had a company called Footprint Productions, one of Canada’s first independent syndication companies.  In the summer of 1976, Footprint’s co-founders Dan Plouffe and John Hanlon were working on a multi-hour program called “Welcome Back”.  The premise was back to school stories from celebrities plus comedy skits with plenty of 70’s hits.

Footprint asked me to fly to LA for a couple of weeks (at their expense – hell yes) and interview as many musicians and celebrities about their school days as possible.

So I did.

Carl-WilsonI arrived on a Sunday night.  Bright and early Monday morning (or around 10 o’clock which is bright and early in LA show biz time) I started making phone calls to PR firms and managers.  First on my list was Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys.  He’s agreed to an interview even before I left Toronto, only he was busy at the moment his management firm told me, could I try back in a day or two?  Sure, no problem.

Dobie Gray was available (“The In Crowd”, “Drift Away”) as was Cyndi Grecco.  She had the current hit, “Making Our Dreams Come True” aka the “Laverne & Shirley” TV show theme.  Dr. Hook was in town performing for a couple of days if I could schlep out to Anaheim.

I schlepped.

Ray Sawyer and Dennis LocorriereYou can’t help but have a hilarious interview when you’ve got Ray Sawyer and Dennis Locorriere in the same Holiday Inn hotel room.  Dr. Hook was still basking in the glow of their earlier 1976 hit, “Only Sixteen” and both guys told hilarious stories about their individual school days.

Carl Wilson’s management office got another call from me on Wednesday, but Carl was still too busy.  “Give him until Friday”, they said, “He should be available by then”.

“OK” says I.

Andy Kim 1975Andy Kim agreed to an interview.  His place was just up the hill from the main Tower Records store on Sunset.  Andy’s always a great interview.  We chatted about his school days in Montreal, then as a teenager, heading for New York (with his parent’s permission) to pursue his career.  As we wrapped the interview, the Montreal Olympics were about to begin on TV and Andy graciously invited me to watch with him, so two Canadians sat high atop LA watching the Olympics opening ceremonies from Montreal.

It was too cool.

“Seduction Through Witchcraft” by Louise HeubnerA few hours later, I drove down the hill to the Tower Records store.  Loved that place.  They had a unbelievable selection of eclectic vinyl (at the time, CDs came later), albums you wouldn’t find anywhere else.  I found so many strange and wonderful LPs there.  Where else could you buy the 1969 album “Seduction Through Witchcraft” by Louise Heubner (the official Witch of Los Angeles County)?  That album is an amalgam of spells and electronic music.  I still have it in my record collection (although I admit that I never did try any of her spells, but at least I did listen to it…once).  Another rare find at Towers, was Vincent Price’s ‘69 double LP, “Witchcraft – Magic: An Adventure In Demonology”.  OK, before you get any ideas or start calling an exorcist, I swear to you that I’m not into witchcraft in Wallich's Music Cityany way, honest!  I just like weird and strange albums.  In 1970, at the old Wallich’s Music City store on the corner of Sunset & Vine, I’d bought an album on Mercury Records called “How To Speak Hip” by Del Close and John Brent.  The cover looked interesting, so I took the LP into one of Wallich’s listening booths (which had actual turntables in them), then bought it.  The album had been released in 1959 and became a How to Speak Hipvery hip cult classic.  It’s been sampled by DJ’s, rappers and musicians all over the world.  Deadmau5 used an excerpt from a cut called “Uncool” for his track “Sometimes I fail” and Brian Wilson (tie in coming up in a few paragraphs) can be heard talking about the album during the recording of take 2 od “Hang On To Your Ego” in the CD box set, “The Pet Sounds Sessions”.  The “How To Speak Hip” album is basically two jive Del Closetalking hipsters spoofing language records, and it’s really very funny, even today some 53 years after it was released.  Both Del Close and John Brent were from Chicago’s Second City troupe.  A few years later, Del became one of John Candy’s Second City comedy mentors.  Close had parts in several movies, including “Ferris Bueller’s Day off” and “The Untouchables” (see imdb.com for a complete Del Close TV and movie credits).

Haydu as Geets RomoIn the early ‘70’s back in Toronto, I played “How To Speak Hip” for a friend of mine one night and he loved Del Close as Geets Romoone of the character names so much, he ‘borrowed’ it…and that’s how David Haydu, CHUM engineer, became Geets Romo, CHUM FM and CFNY radio legend and morning show partner of Peter Griffin aka Pete N’ Geets.

original_amoeba-music-hollywood-los-angelesUnfortunately that legendary Wallich’s City as well as that Sunset Towers store are both long gone (as is the entire Tower chain), but fortunately, I found a new love a few years later, further down Sunset Boulevard near Vine Street (the next Pacific-Cinerama-7block west of the Cinerama Dome).  Amoeba Records is the ultimate cool place for record heads.  I have literally spent entire days there rummaging through the bins of vinyl, CD’s, videos and rock memorabilia.

Anyway, back to my ’76 Tower Records adventure.  During the years that I lived in LA as well as the hundreds of times that I visited, I made it a point to always hit the main Sunset Blvd. Tower store.  I’ve seen dozens of superstars shopping there as well as everyday, ordinary stars.  I once saw actor James Spader (“Boston Legal”, “The Office” and “Lincoln”) come in and walk around the store wearing a black homburg.  Nobody would have looked twice stevie-wonderat him if he hadn’t been wearing that homburg.  Maybe that was the point.  Stevie Wonder literally bumped into me in the CD stacks one time.  He was slowly walking down the aisle with one of his people telling him which artists’ CDs were in front of him.  If he liked the artist, he pulled a CD and had his posse guy read off the song list.  If Stevie wanted it, his associate placed it in the Tower plastic basket he was carrying.  I was wrapped up looking intently at some CD, not paying attention to my surroundings and Stevie bumped into me on his way down the aisle.  Even though it was my fault, Steve said, “I’m so sorry.”  ‘I wish’ I could have thought of something clever to say back to him, but I didn’t.  I just mumbled, “Sorry” and moved out of his way until he passed.

Such a typically Canadian response.

Tower_Records_Sunset1

But this particular Towers experience, I took the vinyl LPs I was buying and headed for the cash.  There were three or four registers in a row near the door, but customers formed one line.  I’m standing there and the guy in front of me has his arms full of cassettes…literally full.  No basket, just dozens and dozens of cassettes, scooped up in his arms.  While we were standing there waiting for the next open cashier, he dropped a cassette, so I bent down, picked it up and placed it back in the pile.  That’s when I noticed who it was – The Beach Boys main man, Brian Wilson.  All by himself, no handlers (that I noticed anyway), just picking up a few cassettes for his weekend listening at Tower Records.

I should have asked him what Carl was up to that was keeping him so busy.  But I didn’t.

cheech-and-chong1Cheech and Chong agreed to an interview for “Welcome Back”.  It was somewhere out in the San Fernando Valley and they were, as always, funny as hell.  During a radio interview, you’re not supposed to laugh or say anything while the person is talking, otherwise it could screw up any editing that might need to be done.  But damn, it was hard not to laugh when you’re talking with Cheech & Chong.  Tommy grew up in Calgary, Alberta – Cheech in LA, so there many outrageous stories about getting in trouble at school (which they both did on a regular basis).  After each interview, I’d ask each person if they’d record a couple of liners for the program.  Everyone did, but neither Cheech nor Chong would say “Welcome Back”.  For every liner, instead of saying the name of the program, they always said “Welcome blacks”.

I wasn’t about to correct them, even if they were being politically incorrect.  That was their act, dude.

So the first Friday rolled around and I dutifully called Carl Wilson’s people again as requested.  They were polite and friendly, but Carl still wasn’t available, “Maybe next week” was the response.  I gently reminded them that Carl had agreed to the interview weeks before, but that didn’t seem to cut any mustard.  They were sure Carl would be happy to do it, so stay in touch and ‘have a nice day’.

Right!

Seals_and_Crofts_1975I called Seals & Crofts PR firm and a date and time was set up early the following week to interview them.  “Get Closer” was still in the Top Ten, so they were hot.  Two more interesting, laid back dudes I have never met.

Prior to heading for LA, one of Footprint’s staffers had contacted Paramount Studios.  “Happy Days” was a huge TV hit and we requested interviews with the stars.  Once I got there and called the Paramount PR office, I was told that Anson ‘Potsy’ Williams, Marion ‘Mrs. Cunningham’ Ross, producer Tony Marshall (Penny and Gary’s older brother) and Henry Winkler were available.  Are you kidding me?  The Fonz would do an interview for “Welcome Back”?

Ayyyyyy!

Ron Howard was also available, but I had to contact his agent separately, which I did.

The agent wanted Ron to be paid for the interview.

Ron HowardAre you kidding me?  It wasn’t a lot mind you, pocket change for these stars, but money nonetheless.  After checking with producer John Hanlon back in Toronto to make sure it was in the budget, Ron Howard became the only interview I ever had to pay for.  Technically, of course, I didn’t pay for it.  Footprint did, but it still burned my ass.

Marion Ross (“Mrs. C”) was an absolute dream to interview.  Extremely charming and even though she’d gone to school a few years before the rest of the cast, her stories and memories were equally wonderful.  Ron Howard’s interview was in his dressing room on the Paramount lot where they shot “Happy Days”.  It was my first trip inside a real Hollywood studio (the Universal tour doesn’t count).  About a dozen years later, I spent several months on that same lot when I was working for John Candy and he, Steve Martin and director John Hughes were filming “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”.  But back to Ron Howard – for quite a few years while he was taping “The Andy Griffith Show”, Ron went to school at the studio.  That was potsie-weberquite unique and added several interesting stories to the program.  On Wednesday of my final week in LA, I drove up to Anson Williams home in the Hollywood hills to conduct the interview.  I don’t remember much about the actual interview as I was a bit distracted by the topless woman swimming in Anson’s pool that morning.  Oh that Potsy.

Henry Winkler was my final “Happy Days” interview later on that Wednesday.  Once again, I had a ‘drive on’ pass to the Paramount lot, which paramount_studios_mid_1970s_400was quite rare for a visitor.  The guard at the gate (those famous Paramount gates) told me to park by the gigantic pool area where they shot some of the water sequences from “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” in 1986 and probably hundreds of other water scenes.  Just above that pool, there’s an entire wall painted to look like blue sky with a few clouds scattered around.  They’ve used this backdrop in dozens of movies and to be honest, it’s very Paramount water tank 2distracting.  I must have stared at that wall for a good five minutes and I could have sworn those clouds moved.  Anyway, I parked beneath the blue sky and headed over to Henry Winkler’s  office, which if I recall correctly, was in the writers’ building.

Henry was just as cool as his character The Fonz.  And he loved Canada.  It seems his father Harry was President of a lumber company and made many business trips to Quebec and the Maritime provinces.  Henry sometimes accompanied him on those trips.  Henry simply could not have been nicer.  Here was a huge star who could easily have been a prima donna, but he wasn’t in any way…and HE did the interview for free.  He treated me like Fonzie_and_Pinky_Tuscadero_1976gold and answered every question about his school days with aplomb and humour.  Near the end of the interview, one of the new cast members from that season of “Happy Days” walked into Henry’s office.  Her name was Roz Kelly and she was playing the part of Pinky Tuscadero, a love interest for the Fonz.  Roz had been in “The Owl And The Pussycat” with Barbra Streisand a few years before and after “Happy Days”, she did guest spots on “Kojak”, “Starsky and Hutch”, “Baretta”, “The Dukes of Hazzard”, “Charlie’s Angels”, “Fantasy Island” and “The Love Boat”.  Henry suggested I should interview Roz for “Welcome Back”.

Big problem.

I didn’t know anything about Roz or her new character.  They were still shooting the new season which wouldn’t air for a couple of months.  So quick thinker that I am (occasionally, I do have my moments folks), I suggested to Henry that HE should interview Roz…and he accepted my offer.  He did a couple of bits discussing the new character of Pinky and about Roz herself.  Since Henry and Roz had been working together and knew each other a little bit, it was a lot of fun for both of them.  This was also a fabulous coup for “Welcome Back” and extremely timely too, since our radio special was airing Doug Thompson & Henry 'The Fonz' Winkleraround the Labour Day weekend period a few weeks before “Happy Days” would introduce Pinky Tuscadero to the world.

Thanks Henry.  You are still the coolest interview I’ve ever done.  (By the way, the picture of Henry and I in his office was taken by his personal assistant, who obviously knew who was signing her paycheck, since Henry is front and center in the frame and I’m a bit cut off on the left.)

That night, I went to dinner with friends and when I was coming out of a restaurant, I’d mis-stepped on a loose piece of sidewalk and severely sprained my ankle.  It’s the curse of the Thompson family…weak ankles.  My friends drove me to the emergency ward at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills.

And THAT was a most unusual night.

I’ll tell you about it next month…and oh yeah, you’ll find out if my interview with Carl Wilson ever came to be.

Here’s a hint…yes…and no.

=DT=

Doug’s column appears one Friday every month.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

DBAWIS_ButtonDoug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. and has won 152 awards for his work.  He worked with Canadian actor John Candy for 17 years, writing and producing commercials, specials and several weekly radio programs.

Currently, he’s writing and producing the second season of a television program for the Hi Fi channel in Canada called “Hi Fi Salutes”, a series of short biographical documentaries on Canadian musicians, producers and record industry pioneers.  One of those programs recently won a Platinum Award at the World Film Festival in Houston.

3 Responses to “Doug Thompson: CONFESSIONS OF A PROFESSIONAL ROCK AND ROLL INTERVIEWER – “WELCOME BACK…TO THAT SAME PLACE OLD PLACE THAT YOU LAUGHED ABOUT”.”

  1. Youdontsay Says:

    I would have! I love James Spader, and he almost always wears hats. I believe I read somewhere that his dad always wore hats, so he does to.

  2. You’re lucky they didn’t cut you all the way out, Dougie. After all, it was The Fonz. And you’re… well, Doug.

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