UP NOLAN CREEK: A beat to dance to
Tuesday, 08 May 2012 by WAYNE CARPENTER
Last week when I read longtime television personality Dick Clark had died at the age of 82, thoughts about his life brought back quite a few pleasant memories from my teen years. When Clark took over as host of a a local dance show called Bandstand in 1956, most of America was in the midst of the post-World War II honeymoon and baby boom. The Korean conflict had ended, the Cold War simmered, Russia had yet to launch Sputnik, and the first wave of baby boomers had become old enough to watch their parents' new black and white television sets. The most exciting thing to many of us kids was the strange new musical phenomenon called rock and roll that was being talked about, and often ridiculed, by our parents' generation. As hard as it is to imagine these days, many cities (including some in Texas) banned "rock and roll shows" because of their perceived negative influence on the innocent youth of America.
In the midst of all this change, the program with Dick Clark as America's first television disc jockey began broadcasting nationwide in 1957 every weekday afternoon live from a television studio in Philadelphia. I began watching the show even before I started junior high school. I loved most of the music, and Dick Clark seemed like the cool, hip uncle every youngster wished they had. Accustomed to listening to whatever country music was twanging on the radio of dad's pickup, this new rock and roll music was a revelation. Prior to Bandstand, the only time I ever remember hearing anything other than country or church music was Sunday nights on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan was where we first saw Elvis Presley, or at least his upper torso perform, but his show didn't include actual teenagers dancing to the music like American Bandstand. Other than the latest hit records played on the show, I was impressed by the "cool" dance steps these kids from Philly performed. It sure wasn't the Texas Two Step! Also, the teenagers were so dressed up! Teenagers wearing coats and ties to dance?
Most Texas boys my age wouldn't be caught dead in a coat and tie unless it was Easter Sunday or some other high falutin' occasion where formal dress was inescapable. In 1960 era Belton, Texas, the world of American Bandstand and the rock and roll scene were as exotic to this Belton boy as any remote Pacific Island I had read about in National Geographic.
I rushed home many days and eagerly watched the show before heading outside. Even my mother watched with me on occasion when she would set the ironing board up in front of the television. She wasn't wild about the music but thought the boys in coats and ties were so cute, as was as the young Dick Clark.
Not only did Clark introduce rock and roll to many of our generation, he was the first to target the teenage demographic as a group with spending money, and his efforts made him a millionaire.
Another thing Clark did, which caught the attention of many, was to introduced African American performers on his show on a regular basis. This was unusual in the late 1950's and early sixties. Rhythm and blues and rock and roll music performed by black entertainers was not often heard on radio or television airways in the South of the late 50's or early 60's. In fact, white recording artists's often "covered" songs that had been performed first by black entertainers, so they could market the music to a wider, and whiter, audience.
Rock and roll music, and the music business in general, has changed greatly since American Bandstand days and not always for the best.
But after all these years, I can think of no one person who had a greater or longer-lasting impact on the music business than Dick Clark.
One of the staples of American Bandstand was the Rate-a-Record segment where a new song was played and the teens gave it a thumbs up or down. Dick Clark never had a hit song, but he had a winning record ... and he left us all a beat we could dance to.