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NICK ZEDD UNEDITED: “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”

GATW Guest Writer

March 29th, 2012

Barry Richards TV Collection Vol. 1: Turn-On / Groove-In / Rock Out, just released as a two disc set, is a mesmerizing and fantastic collection of early performances by Alice Cooper, Little Richard, Richie Havens, Bob Seger System, Dr. John the Night Tripper, Biff Rose, Humble Pie, and a bunch of obscure rock n' roll bands who passed through the Maryland / D.C. / Virginia area in the late '60s and early 70s when I was growing up there.

This collection is a lot of fun and brings back memories of the only counter-culture to make it on local TV at the time, on WDCA Channel 20 (a station that actually aired gerbil races as entertainment, along with curiosities like Hugh Hefner's Playboy After Dark and the first televised airing of the Monterey Pop Festival).

Forty years later (with the advent of the internet and thousands more TV channels), anyone under twenty would have no idea how deprived we were for excitement at a time when revolutionary changes were taking place around the world. For a twelve year-old kid living in Hyattsville (then Adelphi, Maryland), the world of rock n' roll was an exotic other dimension accessible only on .45 records and LPs (bought with allowance money at Drug Fair after listening to the top-forty on my transistor radio). Live concerts were years away on my limited budget, so television was a magic portal when Dick Cavett, Ed Sullivan or the Smothers Brothers featured nationally-aired performances of top bands to millions of viewers.

Life in Maryland in 1970 was particularly boring to anyone with a brain reading about what was going on in the big cities. In Adelphi, everyone was square; classmates in junior high were conformists kept in line by bullies, assistant principals, and local church leaders. Jocks and cheerleaders were considered royalty. Dullards and fools ruled. There were no blacks in our school until court-ordered busing introduced immigration to us. Racism was the norm. Long hair on males didn't happen in our section of the planet until 1971. Most kids were mean or stupid back then; brainwashed by conformity, religion, and racism.

When a local DJ named Barry Richards hosted a new show on UHF Channel 20 called Turn On, informing us that it would be "free- form television," I was hooked. Little did I know that Richards had been around since the early 60s as a DJ on local radio in Washington, Maryland and New Jersey, having already interviewed the Beatles and later Little Richard (who custom-wrote and performed the Barry Richards theme). Both interviews are on the Disc Two Bonus CD.

Barry Richards was so hip, intelligent and funny he made the Beatles seem mundane by comparison. Likewise, in his conversations with Dr John, Chris Mitchum and Patrick Wayne (sons of Bob Mitchum and John Wayne, promoting their movie), Richards' hipster patter propels communication to a higher level; his vocal skills are astounding. Visiting Barry Richards' website, I checked out old recordings of his on-air rants, brilliant excursions in linguistic inventiveness and bebop patois; revelations from another dimension. Barry Richards must have been the greatest DJ who ever lived, from the evidence I heard. He was the fastest, funniest and hippest voice on the airwaves and he belonged to us! He blew away Wolfman Jack, Murray The K and Cousin Brucie!

Barry Richards TV Collection Vol.1 starts with a brilliantly amateurish achievement from 1968 called Groove-In featuring local teenagers at the Prince George Community Center, assembled to witness one-hit wonder Cliff Nobles and his band do the soul hit "The Horse." Shoving his microphone into the mugs of bewildered teens to demand their ages and what high school they attend, Richards, resplendent in a psychedelic black and purple silk shirt with paisley patterns and an out-of-date greaser DA ["Duck's Ass" hair style] with fashionable sideburns, exudes an infectious nervous energy that rivets one's attention. Followed by the Groove-In Teen Panel, in which local kids with as much personality as a row of cabbages recite what appear to be scripted questions for the equally inarticulate but amused 18 year old Cliff Nobles, I felt my mind being warped by the sheer strangeness of the proceedings.

The cardboard sets with day-glow letters were a perfect repository for these teen mutants, creatures devoid of style or apparent grey matter placed in chairs behind a snazzy wooden construction similar to Mac McGarry's That's Academic (another local show designed to showcase the intellectual skills of high-schoolers). This bargain-basement bizarro world inquisition refereed by Richards (in a red turtleneck, black Nehru jacket and silver medallion) is a marvel to behold; a rare gem of awkwardness and bright-eyed cluelessness that would only later be trumped by a movie review segment in which the squarest looking humanoid imaginable, a kid named Barry (resembling a giraffe in a monkey suit), offers his opinions on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. "It didn't look like they were, ah... y'know like shooting it off a walls or something. It seemed like it was, you know, really shooting it right there in the moon or right, you know, on Jupiter or whatever. The plot was really average. You had to really think a lot."

This is followed by sixteen year-old Kathy from Fort Hunt High School, on the teen board representing Hecht's Department Store and showcasing local fashions as Barry holds up "threads" on a hanger representing "the Indian look." Resembling a young "Stepford Wife," Kathy recites her programmed screed, concocted to immortalize mediocrity in clothing apparel for all gullible consumers. Beige is the dominant color, probably in polyester for all style-conscious Marylanders. Local band Flavor then lip synch "Sally Had a Party" under a cheesy red jet atop a pedestal in a park that I recognize from my own personal stone age. Barry saunters in to conduct an abortive interview, exuding hipster charm in spite of his '50s 'do. Barry opines,  "It's gonna be a stone gold nugget!"

Following the pilot of Barry Richards Presents: Turn-On is a feature with the intense and excellent Richie Havens, before the unaccountable spectacle of talentless hippie-buffoon "Uncle Dirty" and a band called Jamul (playing in the woods somewhere near the TV station), with a now long-haired and bearded Barry in a hippie ensemble next to Little Richard who can be seen reclining on a car perusing the proceedings. What strikes me with some of the more forgettable bands showcased on the tape is the intensity of the vocal performances which were raw, ragged and inspired; influenced no doubt by black blues singers from less homogenized origins.

The passion and energy of singers like Jamul's vocalist (as well as a young,  pre-"Night Moves" Bob Seger) exude genuine fury, and they are riveting. Seger appears to be having a seizure, channeling years of pent-up angst in a wild performance that left a permanent mark on my psyche when I first witnessed it on the tube forty years ago. It still lives up to my memory. As does Alice Cooper, performing "Eighteen" and "Black Ju Ju" to a studio audience sitting cross-legged on the floor. This particular performance, following the [Alice Cooper] band's national debut in the one-shot TV special Midsummer Rock, left a lasting impression on every teenager who witnessed it in the summer of 1970. They were one of the top three bands in the country by then, breaking new ground and making history by returning rock n' roll to its punk roots while bringing horror, fun, sexual perversity and theatricality to a medium in dire need of rejuvenation at the time. Just the idea that this band of trailblazing freaks were performing in a little TV studio a few miles from where I lived gave me a reason to live. A couple years later I saw them live at the Capitol Center, from a coveted third row seat which left me deaf for a week. I loved them.

Humble Pie, a stadium band that were relentlessly hyped on the radio at the time, are also on this collection. Their members included the riveting Steve Marriott (whose greatness was cemented as the lead singer of the Small Faces in the '60s) and a very young and bearded Peter Frampton on lead guitar. Marriott, one of the finest singers in the history of rock n' roll, is incredible. It doesn't matter what he sings about; the energy he channels is always powerful. He was a kind of rock n' roll animal, the likes of which the world will likely never again see.

Current singers could learn a lot from watching these performances in which irony and ennui are boring; rather, passion and raw power delivered in a forceful manner by a vocalist who cares and means what he's singing about is what rock n' roll should be. Barry Richards had a keen eye for recognizing such talent and on one of his later shows, he presented for the first time on TV, a Mick Rock- directed 16mm promo of David Bowie on the cusp of achieving world fame as Ziggy Stardust.

Missing on this collection are historic performances by Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath and Steppenwolf. Let's hope they appear in a Volume Two, along with more of Barry Richards' great interviews with visiting actors and celebrities. Included on the new volume is an audio interview with Flash Gordon's Buster Crabbe.

One of the best things about the free-form series Turn-On was its eclectic flavor; in between episodes of old serials like Jungle Girl and The Bowery Boys would appear interviews and performances by singers like Biff Rose and comedic interludes with visiting talents like The Ace Trucking Company.

I give this collection five stars.

-Nick Zedd

For more information on how you can have your very own copy of this collection, visit BarryRichardsShows.com

For more info on Nick Zedd and his films, please check out his website.


Check out the trailer for the documentary BLANK CITY featuring Nick Zedd!

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