Porky's Fellow Pioneers

Friday, 07 March 2014 06:10 AM Written by 

In no way does it diminish Porky Chedwick's monumental achievements to note that he was the Last Man Standing in a very elite group: the tiny cadre of white American disc jockeys in the West and and Deep South who pioneered playing black R&B for a wider audience. Every one made a difference in their territory, as Porky did here in the east. Most began roughly the same time Porky did. Alan Freed isn't on this list. He started later, and his story's already well known.  Likewise, Wolfman Jack, inspired by Freed, was a "next generation" personality who began much later than Porky or the others below.  None of the legends below played a role anywhere near Porky in creating the oldies concept. That was his alone.

Los Angeles: Hunter Hancock (1916-2004)

A Texas-born stage entertainer, Hancock made his name at KFVD hosting "Hunter Hancock's Harlematinee." That led to him emceeing live stage shows and earning the affectionate nickname of " Ol' H.H." In 1956 he moved to KGFJ radio to host "Huntin' With Hunter."  Disenchanted with the changing rock music scene, he left radio in 1968 and died in 2004.  A 1959 aircheck.

Nashville: Gene Nobles (1913-1989), John "John R" Richbourg (1910-1986)

A former carnival barker, Arkansas native Nobles worked at at several stations before landing at Nashville's WLAC in 1943. Like Hancock, started out playing jazz and big band music. After World War II, encouraged by African American students at Nashville's Fisk University, Nobles switched to the new R&B records popular. Few realize how strong Nashville's black music community was, even then. Nobles also gained notoriety for his double-entendre comments on the air. His WLAC cohort John Richbourg began playing the same music in the late 40's on "Harlem Hop" program and over time as "John R," gained even more popularity than Nobles. WLAC had two other white hosts playing R&B in the 50's: William "Hoss" Allen (one of the first DJs to play James Brown) and veteran Herman Grizzard.   Here's Nobles recording a Royal Crown Hairdressing ad with Little Richard in 1956.

Shreveport: Ray "Groovie Boy" Bartlett

A lot of people around Shreveport and the Deep South assumed Ray Bartlett, known as "Groovie Boy," was black. He wasn't. A staff announcer at KWKH Radio, home of the Grand Ole Opry-like weekly radio and stage show the Louisiana Hayride, Bartlett's R&B and blues show "Groovie's Boogie" became hugely popular with all races. Country singer and Louisiana Hayride star Red Sovine even recorded a tune titled "Groovie Boogie Woogie Boy." Bartlett died, all but forgotten, in 2007.  Country singer Red Sovine, who worked on the Hayride, recorded a 1950 tribute titled "Groovy Boy."

Memphis: Dewey "Daddy-O Dewey" Phillips (1926-1968)

Friend of Elvis Presley, part of the glory days of his pal Sam Phillips's (no relation) Sun label, Phillips, born in rural Tennessee, got noticed playing R&B records in a Memphis department store where he worked, drawing huge crowds. That led to his radio job in 1949, hosting Red Hot & Blue on WHBQ, playing whatever he wanted with a crazed jive-talk delivery ("tell 'em Phillips sent-cha!") not unlike Nashville's Gene Nobles. Dewey was the first DJ anywhere to play Elvis's first record on Sun and interview him on the air in July, 1954. He remained wild on the air but was unable to adapt to the growing Top 40 radio format with its tight playlists. That led to him leaving WHBQ in 1958.  He drifted from station to station as pain from a leg injury suffered in a car crash worsened his alcohol and drug abuse. He died in 1968. The 2011 musical Memphis celebrated his life. This link includes clips of Phillips in his prime.

Of all of them, only Porky lived long enough to see and to savor the full import of what they all started over six and a half decades ago.  And what an achievement.

 

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