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How Chicago Rocked the 60s

It all began when the Beatles landed in America, on February 7, 1964. Their arrival heralded the beginning of the "British Invasion," and rock and roll would never be the same. American teenagers listened to their transistor radios or 45 rpm records, and it seemed as though every young, white high-school-age male wanted to start a band. Soon, new rock and roll groups were coming together, playing in garages, basements and living rooms all around Chicago.

It was a time when record labels were still based in Chicago, and two local AM radio stations, the powerful WLS (890) and WCFL (1000), fought each other for the young audience. The two 50,000 watt powerhouses did their best to support area bands on their way up, by giving them airplay. Once a group took the major step of actually recording a song, they might make it onto WLS' "Silver Dollar Survey," the official scorecard of top 40 hits, or later, WCFL's Sound 10 Survey.

Chicago in the mid-1960s was a place where dreams could, and did, come true. Soon, these bands and their hits were climbing the national charts, with such songs as "Kind of a Drag," "Sugar and Spice," "Gloria," and "Things I'd Like to Say."

For the bands that were part of Chicago's Golden Age of Top 40, there's the satisfaction of knowing their music has stood the test of time. Their records are still played on "oldies" stations everywhere. And they all have great affection for their fleeting time in the national spotlight, and their flirtation with the west coast show biz scene. But no matter where they go, Chicago will always be home.

The Bands
Here's much more about the main bands featured on the program, including their top hits, fun facts, links, and additional memories that group members shared with Bob Sirott.

The American Breed
The Buckinghams
Chicago
The Cryan' Shames
The Ides of March
The New Colony Six
Shadows of Knight

Clark Weber Remembers
I was the morning disc jockey at WLS, and the program director [from 1965 to 1968]. I chose the music. Every week I had to decide what records would go on the air. It was a neat job.

You weren't always smart enough to recognize a hit. A police detective from Gary, Indiana brought his little kids in one day and they actually danced in front of my desk. And he said, "Well, what do you think, Clark?" And I said, "No, I don't think so." That was Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. So I was not all that wise!

Initially, Gene Taylor and I decided that we would create a local band list, for two reasons. Number one because it would give the kids the opportunity to actually get on the air, because they weren't any better or any worse then Herman's Hermits or some of the other people. And number two it gave the kids that were listening a sense of belonging. That's our group on WLS. And we forged that bond with those listeners quite by accident. But that was a very big factor in the popularity of the station at that time because 'LS was playing their songs by their bands.

We were in a war with WCFL at the time and we were looking for that edge. And that gave us an edge. They started doing the same thing, but it's like, who was the second one to fly the Atlantic?

And it continued for about four years. By the time I left WLS, it had begun to change substantially, and local bands were no more. And they haven't been since.

Once we created the first one and put the first one on, suddenly every garage band from Arlington Heights to Gary said, "Wow, listen to that!" And you can be sure they were playing a heck of a lot harder and longer hours in that garage until they finally reached a point where they became The Rivieras and The Cryan' Shames and the rest of those.

You have to figure that when the Beatles came along it was time for a transition. The average life span of a musical trend is about eight years. Presley had been dying out, Brenda Lee, those people.

There was a whole new generation that was growing up that was now 14-15 years old and had money. And Elvis was not cool to them. So they needed something else and the record companies recognized that. And that's when they created, really created the Beatles.

Could it happen again? Probably not. My mother used to say you can't reheat a soufflZ and I think that certainly holds true. Unless we see a dramatic change in radio in the next couple of years, you'll never see that again. It's a little bit like vaudeville. It happened, it was big, now it's gone, but a lot of memories for a lot of people.

It was light. It was fun. It had that good, hard, solid rock driving beat to it. And there was a happiness to it. There was a carefree-ness to it. By 1969-1970, you began to see a substantial change in music. That's when an anger began to permeate the music of the time, some of that leftover anger from the Vietnam War. And music changed substantially then.

There weren't always times when we heard the hits. Case in point: doing a record hop at Glenlord Beach Ballroom in Michigan. A little pimply-faced kid came up and said, "Mr. Weber, would you listen to this song and tell me what you think?" And I played it and I said, "I'll be honest with you, young man. That is the worst piece of garbage I have ever heard in my life." Well the name of the record was "Hanky Panky." Tommy James has never let me forget that. So I didn't, I guess.

[The program director today] is controlled by a national program director who dictates what's being heard. He's trying desperately to get to a 12-to-24-year-old buying public and he doesn't want to take any chances. So he gears the music to them and hammers it, and you'll only hear the same ten or twenty records over and over and over again. You won't hear new records. He can't afford to run that risk.

I'm on the back of the American Breed album! They needed some kind of a sound effect and I just stuck my head in there and I went [makes sound], and it says on the bottom of the album liner notes, sound effects by Clark Weber.

New Colony Six (in their Paul Revere-like outfits), I did a lot of hops with them. Those outfits were awful to wear. I have a picture somewhere of me wearing one standing with the group, if you can imagine a man my age in a New Colony Six outfit.

It is strange that I'm identified with [WLS]. That's a piece of my life that was a very small piece of my total career, the 46 years I was on the air. But I'm defined by what I did at WLS and that's not bad and I'm flattered by it.

I mean, I've done so many different things since then, talk show host, advertising agency. But, that period of time is what stands out in the minds of a lot of people. And thank you for that, I appreciate it.

It was an electric time. It was a fun time and it constantly changed. There was always something new that was happening and yet they didn't discard. For example, the Buckinghams came along first and they weren't discarded when the Cryan' Shames came along or the rest of them. It was just a very large, eclectic group of good, fun rock & roll. And the kids had a ball.

Lyle Gillman Remembers
I started Roselle Music in 1959 as a music school, a teaching operation. (From there on, it grew and grew and became one of the major music stores in the Chicago area.)

Up until that point, of course, the instrument of choice for most kids, or at least their parents, was the accordion. The accordion was the big thing that everybody wanted to learn. But after Elvis and then The Beatles, guitars were, you might say, flying off the wall.

The interest all switched just practically overnight. And we tried to keep up with the trend. It was every kid's ideal at that time was to own a Gibson guitar or Fender Stratacaster and that was the basis of our business.

As soon they knew three chords, they thought they could start a band. And practically every kid had a garage band with a bunch of his friends.

They would buy what they could afford. They'd start with lower echelon guitars and equipment, small amps, and then build up. The thing would grow as they could persuade their parents to invest a little more money.

There were some guitars you couldn't even keep in stock. They just sold overnight. It was a nationwide thing. At that time, I was on the Board of the American Music Conference, which was made up of dealers from all over the country, and everybody was experiencing the same phenomenon!

Links of Interest
The History of WLS Radio
A look back at the storied history of WLS radio, over 75 years of entertainment, information, music, news and fun.

Art Roberts Communications
The website of former WLS disc jockey Art Roberts includes materials about sixties music, and much more about both the broadcast and business sides of radio

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