Monthly Archives: February 2009

Still late to our own party

As usual.

I managed to miss posting on the second anniversary of AM, Then FM earlier this week.

I’ll take my cue from the Oscars and try to have my say before the band starts playing.

Thanks to our many readers, to our regular e-mail correspondents, to our occasional commenters.

Thanks to Janet and Evan for putting up with all the records. Maybe we’ll get the office organized one of these days weeks months years.

Thanks to all my fellow music bloggers. They’ve hepped me to countless great tunes and have become good friends along the way.

OK, OK, I hear the band.

Here’s a reminder that AM, Then FM, has another blog on the side. Shocking, I know. At the end of every month, The Midnight Tracker rolls out one side of an album that ought to be heard again. Here’s the first cut from this month’s side, a tune I heard first on another blog.

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“Am I Black Enough For You,” Billy Paul, from “360 Degrees of Billy Paul,” 1972. Listen to the rest of Side 2 over at The Midnight Tracker.

Because we’re celebrating our second anniversary, here’s a second tune.

We’re from Wisconsin, and we write about its music from time to time.

We’ve written about Clicker, a hard-working rock/pop/original/cover show band that played countless Wisconsin clubs, dance halls and roadhouses in the early and mid-’70s. We’ll write about them again, trust me. Nothing draws more comments — all wonderful memories of that time — than those posts about Clicker.

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“Two of a Kind,” Clicker, from “Har De Har Har,” 1975. It’s out of print. I rarely see it when record digging but have seen it twice in the last month. Go figure.

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And so our story concludes

Does it seem to you that the ‘70s were a more adventurous time than now? Perhaps it’s just that we were younger then.

Bruce Heikkinen was 17 when he started working in radio at the beginning of that decade. Who does that today?

When he was 24, already a seasoned radio pro after jobs at four stations, the artist formerly known as Bruce Charles headed off to college. He went to the University of Wisconsin-Stout, over in the western part of the state, and worked at the campus radio station.

In 1978, a friend asked Bruce, “Hey, do you want to go to Washington with me?”

“I’ve never seen the Capitol,” Bruce said.

“No,” his friend said. “I’m going to the state of Washington.”

So off they went, leaving college in search of adventure. Bruce had $100 in his pocket. They drove west, found a lady who rented them a place, found jobs and forged new lives.

Having learned that “talking and entertaining people wasn’t work,” Bruce found a new gig that wasn’t work, either. He spent 25 years selling advertising for AT&T and US West. Based in the Seattle area, he “traveled all over the West on a good expense account,” enjoying its benefits at a time when business was booming.

“Have you seen ‘Mad Men’ on AMC? That was us.”

These days, Bruce Heikkinen has moved on to his third career. He runs a small advertising agency in the Seattle area. He still does some voice work. He lives on 20 acres about 25 miles south of Seattle. This is the view from his deck.

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These days, Bruce has a side gig that takes him beyond Mount Rainier, to taverns, saloons and roadhouses all over western Washington.

“About 15 years back, an old wino died at the pub I went to. We had a memorial and I did the eulogy for him, saying some kind words and some thoughts about life and afterlife. It turned out he was a very interesting man, a Navy diver who tried out for the Olympic swim team, had a Purple Heart from World War II and more, a lot of things no one knew or he ever shared with others.

“After that, on occasion, I’m asked to be the MC/Tavern Preacher for wakes in some of the ‘finer establishments’ for the dearly beloved. I’ve found out there’s something interesting about everyone! I try to make that individual look like a saint even though that might not be the case.”

Lest you think our man is getting too pious, remember that he’s from Wisconsin.

“Plus I get free beer!”

Ah, yes, that rock ‘n’ roll spirit is alive and well.

Bruce, would you like to cue up some of your favorite tunes for us?

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“I Got A Line On You,” Spirit, from “The Family That Plays Together,” 1968.

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“What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye, from “What’s Going On,” 1971.

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“I’ll Be Around,” the Spinners, from “The Spinners,” 1972.

Thanks, man, then and now.

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And so our story continues

When we met in the WIFC studio on Tuesday morning, Feb. 18, 1975, Bruce Charles was 22 and I was 17.

Five years’ difference is nothing now, but it’s enormous at that age. He was one of the coolest guys everyone knew, and I was just a high school senior who loved radio.

It was the first real, out-in-the-world interview of my journalism career. But at 17, I still hadn’t learned some of the nuances of interviewing. The story I wrote was good enough, but now I see how and where it could have been better. Then I got a second chance.

It had been 33 years since I last heard Bruce Charles’ voice, but when he answered the phone last September, it was just as I remembered.

It’s not a classic radio voice, but it’s distinctive. It’s the voice you get after you’ve shouted and cheered all night at a show.

Bruce Charles is from a place called Brantwood, a wide spot in the road on U.S. 8 in northern Wisconsin.

“My father was a farmer and a logger, and quite honestly, I wasn’t very good at either. But when we had coffee break, I was good at entertaining the group … I knew what work was — farming and logging — but talking and entertaining people wasn’t work.”

So at 17, “a couple of months” shy of 18, Bruce Charles Heikkinen dropped his last name and went to work at WSAU-AM in Wausau, Wisconsin, the closest big town, about an hour southeast of Brantwood.

brucecharles“When I first started, I worked all night at WSAU, playing everything from Mancini to Dean Martin to the Beatles.”

A year later, he joined its sister station, WIFC, the dominant FM station in central Wisconsin then and now. In the early ’70s, WIFC’s format was Top 40 during the day and rock at night.

“What a great experience.”

“As music director, I was contacted at a very young age by music people from all over the country. (A lot of that was) on the phone. In person, (I met) Todd Rundgren, Heart, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Styx and the Eagles.”

It was a wild time, too. Especially if you were young and the most popular DJ on the most popular station around.

“Life was good. It was a rock ‘n’ roll world. … Those were the benefits. … Girls who would do strange things to themselves while you listened on the other end of the line. Married women taking you out to eat and more. Strippers. Pay wasn’t that good, but the women were!”

Speaking of which, I asked Bruce which Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass cut he played at 6 a.m., opening our show all those years ago. I’m not surprised it came from this album.

herbalpertwhippedcream

“A Taste Of Honey,” Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, from “Whipped Cream and Other Delights,” 1965.

However sweet that taste, Bruce Charles was on the verge of another adventure, one that changed the course of his life.

That story tomorrow.

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And so our story begins

“It’s cold out here. I’ve knocked on this door a couple of times.
I sure hope they remember today is the day.”

That’s what I remember thinking early on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 18, 1975 — the day I did the first real interview of my journalism career.

I’d pitched a story for my school paper — then called the D.C. Jet — on seeing what it was like to be the morning DJ at our local FM rock station in Wausau, Wisconsin, the one almost everyone listened to.

When I called Bruce Charles to ask whether I could do so, he said sure — but I had to be there at 5:30 a.m. So there I was, knocking on the back door of the studios WIFC shared with WSAU-TV and WSAU-AM.

wifc275aI spent the 6-to-10-a.m. shift with Bruce. He joked on-air that we had wine and were kicking back. He took calls and played 45s. We chatted during songs. I got a little air time.

The photographer from my school paper came by. That’s Bruce showing me David Bowie’s live album for no apparent reason. Both of us are making fashion statements of some kind, but we’ll leave that for cultural historians to deconstruct.

I wrote the story. I still have it. But it’s hardly the end of the story.

I always wondered what became of Bruce Charles. Until last August.

That’s when a certain quarterback unretired and was traded to New York. Big news in Green Bay, of course, so we asked our readers to share their thoughts. It was my job to sort through the hundreds of e-mails and choose some to be published.

As I went through them, I came across one from a gent whose name I immediately recognized. So I e-mailed back: “I knew a Bruce Heikkinen who worked at WIFC radio in Wausau in the mid-70s. Is that you?”

The next day, I heard back: “Rock n roll! … yes!!!”

It was Bruce Charles. We exchanged some more e-mails and we eventually chatted on the phone. A follow-up interview, 33 years later. That it was with the subject of my first real, out-in-the-world interview made it all the more special.

Way back when, I wrote in the D.C. Jet that we played stuff from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Ringo Starr, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and the Four Tops on Tuesday morning, Feb. 18, 1975.

We might have played the following tunes that morning. They were on the charts at the time. You wouldn’t hear them together today, though. Rock stations wouldn’t play one. Urban stations wouldn’t play the other. What a blessing it was to grow up in a time when the radio exposed you to all kinds of music.

ohioplayersfirelp

“Fire,” Ohio Players from “Fire,” 1975.

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“Roll On Down The Highway,” Bachman-Turner Overdrive, from “Best of B.T.O. (So Far),” 1976. It’s out of print. This tune first appeared on “Not Fragile,” 1974. It’s also available on “20th Century Masters: The Best of Bachman-Turner Overdrive,” a 2000 CD compilation.

Our story continues later this week. (Sorry, this is Wisconsin. I have to go out and shovel instead of blogging.)

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Lacking momotum

We’ve reached the point in a typically long Wisconsin winter that it’s starting to wear me down. I’m lacking momotum.

What’s momotum? It’s momentum, but we once heard Ahmad Rashad say it that way during some game, and so it’s momotum forever.

thankyoumatchbook2So this will be a post that may not meet our usual standards — if we indeed have any — as we address some lingering odds and ends.

1. Early last week, we surpassed 200,000 visitors. Thanks, everyone.

2. The blogroll is fluid, always changing, and we’ve had a few swell additions.

Analog Apartment is for those of us who have turntables and lots of vinyl records, and the storage and design issues that come with them.

You’ll find fine tunes at Boogie Banger, Derek’s Daily 45, Doctor Mooney’s 115th Dream and Rollo & Grady.

Our man at Retro Music Snob has spun off a second blog, Rock God Cred. Between the two, they link to posts about classic rock from the ’60s to the ’90s.

3. You’ll find me on Facebook if you’re so inclined. If you’re a fan or a friend of this blog, you’ll find the AM, Then FM group on Facebook.

appshow02080914. I took a little road trip last Sunday and went to a record show, of course. The first guy I saw was a photographer from the local paper, a guy I used to work with. Thankfully, he kept me out of his photos. Well, almost.

The big guy at far left, digging through a crate, that’s me.

The guy in the foreground is Jim, from whom I’ve bought lots of albums in the last couple of years. He organizes the show. He’s the guy who sells records from a tent in his back yard when the weather is good.

If you want to see what a record show in our corner of Wisconsin is like, click here to see my friend Pat’s pictures.

Despite a limited budget, I picked up five nice albums.

Here are a couple of tunes from one, a $4 record.

isleybrositsourthinglp

“Somebody Been Messin'” and “I Must Be Losing My Touch,” the Isley Brothers, from “It’s Our Thing,” 1969. (The album link is to a 2-on-1 import CD that also has “Go All The Way,” their 1980 album.)

The Isleys start to get funky, as these two bass- and horn-driven scorchers demonstrate. “It’s Our Thing” was the Isleys’ first album after splitting from the Motown label. If you couldn’t tell from the title that they were delighted to be on their own, and on their own label — T-Neck — the liner notes go into great detail about just that.

This album hit No. 2 on the R&B charts. The single “It’s Your Thing” hit No. 2 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the R&B charts. This one also has a couple more familiar Isley cuts — “I Know Who You Been Socking It To” and “Give The Women What They Want.”

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