I have the pictures and the ideas together for a post called Cannon Beach … but Billy Cannon died this morning, and I have been feeling guilty about by-passing Los Angeles (traffic is even less fun when you’re pulling a 4-ton trailer). And I have not mentioned that northern Pacific coast creature known as Sasquatch. We have been in Sasquatch country since we almost lost Bugger, but outside of jerky commercials, that beast is a fiction. The Wolfman was real. Then today I heard this on our local NPR station.
That’s music I’ve always loved, played by a band whose name you cannot guess. C’mon, guess who? You don’t know? Guess Who! It’s not too tough to sing, features one of my favorite rythmic patterns in music (the triplet), tells a story and is thoroughly musical while including grace words of a rock icon, Wolfman Jack. When I got back to the Airstream the Google found me a few versions of Clap for the Wolfman and I played several. Then I looked up the Wolfman’s bio.
Robert Weston Smith was born in Brooklyn, and his father (who wrote for a financial newspaper) gave him a first rate radio to keep the future Wolfman out of trouble. He worked for a couple of years at an early rock station, but when it switched to Easy Listening he took a job in my home state, on a Shreveport radio station. KCIJ was a country channel at the time, but being on-air is addictive, and he quickly became their main DJ and station manager. There he began using the Wolfman handle. Elvis and Hank Williams, Sr. got their starts in Shreveport on the Louisiana Hayride but that was on AM station KWKH. Wolfman Jack met the Wolfwoman there and together they had two kids, about which the chronicles remain silent.
After Shreveport he was hired away to be the on-air voice of a Mexican mega-station of 250,000 watts (the U.S. power limit is 50,000 watts,). Wolfman claimed its signal was so strong that one could drive from Chicago to L.A. without ever touching the radio dial. But he also noted that birds that flew too close to the transmitter dropped dead in mid-flight. The Wolfman’s exaggerations helped make him famous, and in time he moved back to the States and recorded shows to send to his Mexican employer. His voice tied together scenes and themes in the ’73 blockbuster American Graffiti, George Lucas’ second feature film. It was a monster of a success, and Lucas felt the Wolfman’s voice (heard at nights all over America, thanks to 250,000 Mexican watts) was so critical to its box office that he gave The Wolfman a “fraction of a point of the profits”. After that The Wolf was set for life. He wouldn’t stop working, but he did move to my favorite state, North Carolina, to be closer to the Wolfwoman’s people and now and then, their adult kids. A heart attack got him way too early, but the Rock ‘n Roller Credo has long been “Better to burn out than to rust”. There weren’t never no rust on The Wolfman.
Here’s another version of Clap for the Wolfman, this time played by an older Guess Who, each wearing an extra 50 pounds of organic insulation, spectacles, or both, yet still first-rate musicians. The keyboardist and lead singer is Burton Cummings.
Inasmuch as he’s gone, let us allow The Wolfman to sign off on his own terms, along with Toussaint McCall of Monroe, LA.