Sunday, April 17, 2011

Randy Wood (1917 - 2011)

When I was a teenager, slightly before the Punic Wars, late night found many of us in Charleston (WV) listening not to local radio stations, still continuing to pump out our parents' retrograde faves like "April in Portugal" and "Lisbon Antigua", but to the 50,000 watt clear channel station out of Nashville, WLAC, featuring deejays Gene Nobles and John R. 
      Enacted after-hours and away from parental scrutiny, auditing WLAC was so clandestine and forbidden, that it almost operated like a vicarious trial run for sex---something of which few teens in the 50s had partaken. Not in my set, anyway. In between their pitches for mail order rhythm and blues packages from Randy's Record Shop in Gallatin, Tennessee and salacious paeans to the lubricating properties of White Rose Petroleum Jelly, this powerhouse outlet blanketed almost the entire country with the real deal in black music instead of the pale white simulacrum coming to be known as rock and roll. Randy's was owned by Randy Wood, also the proprietor of the Dot record label. He died last weekend at the age of 94.
Years later I learned that the jockeys on "LAC" ("a service of the Tennessee Life and Casualty Company") weren't actually black, but only "sounded that way." And I wasn't the only who got misled. Legend has it that no less than the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, showed up at the station late one summer evening with his first recording tucked under his arm hoping to get a break from men whom he had presumed for years were "Negro," until being led into the studio and learning otherwise. When the secret history of r n' b and r n' r is writ large, it will probably be made apparent that it wasn't really Dick Clark who turned on teenage America to black music, but instead, this seldom acknowledged radio phenomenon out of the heartland of America---WLAC and Randy Wood.
It is also of interest that the so-called "cover" records of black rhythm and blues songs by some of Dot's white artists played a major role in establishing the careers of the original purveyors of the music, such as Little Richard and Fats Domino, et al, all of whom have been at pains, over the years, to accord Wood the proper credit he played in boosting their professional fortunes. These Dot recordings by whites are in addition to the hundreds of black rhythm and blues sides that also originated on the label.
And don't forget the nearly 1,000 albums turned out by Dot, overseen by Randy Wood, recordings that partook of the entire spectrum of American popular music and jazz.
Wood is survived by his wife, three grandchildren, a great-grandson, and three children, one of whom, jazz pianist John Wood, is a close friend of mine. My sincere condolences to all of them.

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