If you’re a fan of Rock & Roll then you’ve heard of Dick Clark. “America’s Teenager”, “World’s Oldest Teenager”, Host of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, $10,000 Pyramid, and for three decades the face of rock music.
Dick Clark was a young disc jockey in Philadelphia when the host of a popular show, Bob Horn’s Bandstand, was fired. Clark was a regular substitute for Horn, and made the show his own. It was picked up by ABC, and American Bandstand debuted on August 5, 1957 with an interview of Elvis Presley. While to many he defined a movement, according to Clark, “I played records, the kids danced, and America watched.” Pretty typical understatement of Clark.
American Bandstand brought artists to living rooms across the nation well before the age of MTV (which used to show videos), YouTube, and the like. When he broke the color barrier with Chuck Berry, many were surprised to see that the duck-walking artist was black. Soon enough, he was regularly featuring mixed race bands, had teenagers of all races sitting together in the audience, and contrary to the standards of the time, dancing together.
In addition to millions of youngsters being introduced to the latest dance craze, he was the first to feature such artists as The 5th Dimension, The Animals, Blondie, Bill Withers, Tina Turner, The Village People, and The Sugarhill Gang. He featured a live appearance each week, and hundreds of artists over thirty+ years were introduced to rocking Americans on the show. An appearance on his show was often the “break” a new band was hoping for, and performing on American Bandstand with a fresh-faced youngster proclaiming, “Its got a good beat and I can dance to it” would send people running to the record store. In an iconic moment, he invited a new band to perform with an untested lead singer, a young Michael Jackson. It was 1970. Clark still had over forty years to rock.
I had done some work with The Doors (American Bandstand 1967) and was introduced to Dick Clark through some common friends. He invited me to his office, Dick Clark Productions, in 1975. It was on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, then the center of the rock world. It was also, ironically, just blocks from where I had met The Doors at their studio. Clark was warm, gracious, and funny. Everything that has been said about him is true. One of the nicest people that I’ve ever met in the music business, and I’ve met a lot of them, from the reserved John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin to his over-the-top manager Peter Grant, the bathrobe wearing Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys to the “come on over; we’re in the pool” of Paul McCartney. Clark was a king among them, and forever thankful for the opportunity and respectful of his place in rock history.
I was invited back in 1977. I had gotten to know a fantastic band called WAR (Cisco Kid, Low Rider, Why Can’t We Be Friends?) when they were fronted by Eric Burdon of The Animals. Burdon had left the band by this point, but I got to spend a day at American Bandstand with WAR and Clark.
Rock & Roll still has a good beat, and we’re still dancing to it. Thanks, Dick.