Friday, 12 April 2013

WLAC- The Sound of the South

WLAC is a Nashville based radio station, it's history in the promotion of rhythm and blues music to a larger white audience has often been either played down or ignored. It had a significant impact on the development of rock and roll but also served as a conduit for the next generation of musicians, artists like the Allman Brothers, Johnny Winter etc who all credited the station with providing musical inspiration. Often the story has focused on the independent label owners like Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic, Don Robey at Duke, Phil and Leonard Chess and the Bihari Brothers who ran Modern Records. Their role was certainly pivotal in the spread of rhythm and blues but WLAC was certainly the first radio station and a southern one at that to play and promote rhythm and blues records. Rhythm and blues had been given the derogatory term 'race records' but WLAC and it's deejays embraced the music and spread the word to young white teenagers across the country. WLAC had wide coverage, I remember reading that Robbie Robertson as 15 year old could hear it on a clear night all the way up in Toronto.

Gene Nobles was the first deejay at the station to start playing R&B records which started in 1946, Nobles was credited with introducing acts like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard on air. Like the other deejays on the station that made up the '50,000 watt quartet' Nobles was involved in the recording business establishing a relationship with Randy Wood who owned Dot records. Probably the most famous of the quartet was John R. (John Richbourg), like the other deejays Richbourg had a distinctive ad lib patter, and was famous for his "way down here in the middle of Dixie" introduction. Richbourg was also a great promoter of soul records in the early 60's and became a noted producer and A&R man. In 1965 he started A&R development for Fred Fosters Sound Stage 7 record label, turning it into a soul/R&B only label. He bought in the amazing Joe Simon and produced 15 R&B hits in five years for Sound Stage, he continued to produce and manage Simon when he went to Spring records in 1971. In the mid 1980's whilst battling ill health a fund raiser was organised for Richbourg at the Grand Ole Opry that featured artists like B.B King and James Brown, many in the audience thought Brown gave the performance of his career that night.

Bill 'Hoss' Allen served on and off at the station for 45 years, he was a strong promoter of soul music and also gave focus to the emerging sound emanating from Memphis and Muscle Shoals. He also fronted the syndicated TV show The!!!!Beat which has been released on DVD and is well worth purchasing for early performances from the likes of Joe Simon and Otis Redding. He also ran a successful gospel show for many years and spent three years working for Chess Records as an A&R rep in the early 1960's. The final member of the quartet Herman Grizzard seemed to garner less attention perhaps because of his early death in 1971, like the other deejays he span R&B and gospel records and was a promoter of the local record store Buckley's. John R was sponsored by Ernie' Record Mart which was run by Ernie Young who ran the Nashboro gospel record label and the Nasco label which focused on blues and R&B releases. Some of this material was released on the brilliant Ernie' Record Mart compilation that came out on Ace, and features the opening of John R's radio show.

This quartet not only fostered R&B on their radio shows they became a part of the music scene as promoters, A&R men and producers, they developed and nurtured up and coming talent, the impact of their actions was immense.

Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown on Hoss Allen's The!!!!Beat

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