August 7, 2010

(Dewey Phillips - the turbo-charged prototype - radio was never the same)

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As much as history books like to credit Allan Freed as the man who put Rock n' Roll on the map, the real unsung hero has to be Dewey Phillips, whose insane non-stop delivery and ground breaking exposure to white audiences of Rhythm & Blues probably did more to punch through the color barrier than anyone at the time.

Phillips started broadcasting in 1949, right at the crest of the Jump-Blues wave where Rhythm & Blues was fusing with small combo Jazz and the result eventually morphed into rock n' roll. Phillips, and his nightly show on WHBQ in Memphis ran a wall to wall stream of music by the likes of Joe Turner, Mel Walker and Little Esther Phillips, Roy Milton, Amos Milburn, Charles Brown and countless others. Because his show had no format to speak of he ran pretty much what ever he felt like. And it was this free form type of program that appealed to so many kids at the time, and so many white kids who were being exposed to music formerly relegated to rural Southern stations.

Phillips had the distinction of being the first to play Elvis Presley and one of the first to interview him.

Dewey Phillips would eventually be burned by the thing he helped create and by the mid-1950's his brand of free form radio would be co-opted by tight formats and playlists which would eventually give way to Top-40 and tighter playlists.

But for that brief period of time, Dewey Phillips had no peers and this 30 minute slice from November of 1950 gives you some idea of the madness he was all about and why the early days of Rock n' Roll came about because of him.

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