Sunday, November 15, 2009
Lawrence – My Hometown
Bill Marlowe and Norm Nathan
By Richard E. Noble
Rock & Roll was born in the 50’s and therefore is a part of my history. I bought my first 45 at a local drugstore on the corner of Park and Tenney streets, Morrissey’s Drugs which later became Kluff’s Drugs. It was Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line. On the flipside was Get Rhythm. I liked the flipside the best because I was shinning shoes with my own personal shoe shine kit at the time on various corners and in the local barrooms. I was seriously interested in the art of shining shoes. And snapping my buffing rag rhythmically was important.
I sat through several showings of Rock Around the Clock staring Bill Healey and the Comets at the Star Theater but nevertheless I had a very short love affair with Rock & Roll. The girl in the movie who performed the exciting dances with the black hair and the pink underwear that became very visible each time she came sliding on the floor between her dancing partner’s legs directly at the camera was another story.
I was at our rented cottage at Salisbury Beach for our family’s annual summer vacation when I had an epiphany. My brother, Ernie, who was seven years older than me had started his first year of college at Northeastern University. Between his roommates and the Boston atmosphere he had become a jazz music buff. He talked endlessly about places like Storyville and Pall’s Mall. No matter what station I tuned the radio to he kept changing it to some guy by the name of Bill Marlowe.
The first Jazz song I ever really listened to was Draggin’ my Red Wagon by Anita O’Day. I still don’t know what the red wagon refers to but it sounded super sexy and seductive when Anita sang it. And that classic was followed by I’ll build a Stairway to Paradise – with a new step everyday by Sarah Vaughan. That was it! I was epiphanized or epiphanated or whatever. I have been hooked on Jazz ever since.
Bill Marlowe was not a Rock & Roll fan. He spoke very derogatorily of Rock & Roll. One of his infamous chants was, “Here on this show we play music. That’s music spelled m-u-s-i-c and not n-o-i-s-e. He would introduce a song by saying, “Now folks let’s listen to one by ELVIS PRESLEY … (then there would be a long pause to put his regular audience in shock and finally he would add with a chuckle the possessive ‘s’ sound and it would finish) Elvis Presley’s good friend Erroll Garner or Al Martino, or Dakota Staton.
Bill Marlowe was born in the north end of Boston – in the Italian section. But when he started out in the 40’s in radio nobody was hiring Italians. He had to change his name to make himself more appealing to the average listening audience.
One had to be persistent to keep up with Bill Marlowe. The radio stations dumped him every few months it seemed. He wouldn’t play Rock. He would only play the music he loved - Jazz.
He began his radio career at WCCM – AM in Lawrence in the early 40’s. I followed him from WBZ-AM to WILD-AM. It seemed like he was always moving and he would tell you where and why on the air. He wasn’t going to prostitute himself and sell out to what was popular. It was Jazz or nothing. Bill was great. While all my buddies were listening to Woo-woo Ginsburg and Adventure Car Hop I was tuned to WILD and the Bill Marlowe show.
In the 50’s when the payola scandal broke out Bill would laugh on the air and say things like, “They ain’t looking for me! They know no one is paying me to play Al Marino, Erroll Garner, and Dakota Staton.” Bill died in 1996. He was the best.
Norm Nathan kept me up nights. He had a show on WHDH called Sounds in the Night. He loved Jazz and big bands. He played selections that never made it to daytime radio, like Crescendo and Diminuendo in blue - with an interval by Paul Gonzsalves - by the Duke Ellington Band at Newport in 1955. That one song took up nearly one whole side of the album. But what a song! After listening to that while lying in bed at midnight – you were up till 2 a.m. for sure. No sleeping after that.
Then Norm might play Sing Sing Sing by the Benny Goodman band at the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert with the famous Gene Krupa solo. You didn’t hear sounds like that on Woo-woo Ginsburg.
He played a lot of Stan Kenton too. But on top of the great music the guy was a real clown. He did all these satirical skits and people would call in all night long. He would lead them on with bogus history about the guy who really discovered America rowing over from Europe in a paper mache’ canoe and landing somewhere in Methuen. He was so authoritative and believable that people would say, “No kidding. I didn’t know that.” Norm Nathan was an original.
My interest in Jazz never dissipated. Not being able to sit still while listening to good Jazz, I bought myself a set of drums and joined in with all the greats in my parlor. I started playing the drums as a teenager – which was quite a torture for the neighbors and the other tenants at 32 Chelmsford St. Amazingly enough I am just as good today on the drums as I was the day I started. It is really hard to believe – and at my age even more difficult. Very few people have ever heard me play the drums but those few that have told me that is the way it should be. So that makes me feel good. Everyone needs to feel special sometimes.
At my ice cream parlor in Carrabelle I bought a karaoke and made my own imitation radio tapes. My ice cream parlor was called Hobo’s and my radio station was WHOBO broadcasting from under the mile high tower in uptown/downtown Carrabelle at 98.6 on your dial. It was 98.6 because that’s body temperature. My one requirement was that my listeners had to be alive. I was not into playing music or telling jokes to dead people.
I sang too. I called myself Vic the Moan. I didn’t sing as well as I played the drums but eventually I developed a style of talking the lyrics like Jimmy Durante and Ted Lewis. I think I did very well – I never asked any of my customers. What the hell would they know? I figured it is MY ice cream parlor and if I was going to starve to death and go broke selling double scoops of ice cream like I once got at Wasmaco’s outside Canobe lake Park and at 1959 prices, I could do it my way and with a song in my heart. My wife didn’t complain either – but she has the unique ability to take her ears out at night and put them in a box on the bureau. She can spin a little doohickey and turn things off and on at her discretion during the daylight hours - one of the benefits of growing old. I on the other hand had to listen to myself. But I didn’t mind. Over the years I have grown used to me. Hopefully you folks will have a similar metamorphosis one day also.
Richard Edward Noble is a freelance writer and columnist. His local column, the Eastpointer, won the first place 2007 humor award from the Florida Press Association. He has published several books. All of his books can be viewed and purchased on Amazon. Contact Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org for bookstore discounts and volume sales.