Wednesday, March 9, 2016

It's Been A Rough Year ... And We're Only 69 Days In!

My intention this morning was to write a short piece on legendary Radio Program Director John Rook.  I first got the news yesterday that he had passed away last week at his home in Idaho and it struck me hard because over the past nine years I had many conversations with John over the phone and, quite frankly, I was a bit surprised that this didn't play as a much bigger news story, especially here in Chicago where he made BOTH of our AM Top 40 radio stations (WLS and WCFL) the #1 stations in town.

But then I got up this morning to find the news that Beatles Producer Sir George Martin passed away yesterday at the age of 90.  Like I said, it's been a rough year so far ... and we're only 69 days in.

So today we'll remember John Rook ... and then tomorrow we'll salute George Martin.

My first contact with John Rook came when I contacted him back in 2007 for my lengthy profile of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

It seems that John was involved with the circulation of a petition calling for the induction of Pat Boone and yet, despite over 10,000 signatures, this went completely ignored by The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  He asked for my number and we talked several times about this, the ways and means (and hidden agenda) of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, his storied radio career, his friendship with Eddie Cochran ... his special bond with legendary disc jockey Larry Lujack ... John Rook was an INCREDIBLE story teller and had lived through SO many great events during what will always be remembered as the most exciting days of rock and roll.

It was during one of these conversations that he told me he was launching The Hit Parade Hall Of Fame.  The timing couldn't have been better ... I was able to break this story nationwide within the context of my Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame expose and first talked about this brand new organization on Jim Shea's morning radio show shortly thereafter.

The Hit Parade Hall Of Fame would have a committee of experts selected by Rook ... but it would ALSO take into consideration the vote of the public ... the music fans who grew up loving these artists and this music ... in fact, it was the votes of those fans that would have the greatest impact on the induction process ... which was COMPLETELY contrary to the way things were done at The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, who regularly told the fans (in a very in-your-face sort of way), "WE know music ... and you don't."

A friendship blossomed and we talked several times a year thereafter ... about virtually anything and everything.  It was a true learning experience for me ... and many of these conversations were almost done in a "father and son" sort of way.  Much of what he told me was strictly off the record ... but along the way he gave me a lot of advice as to how to improve Forgotten Hits, even running links and banners on his own website to draw attention to mine.  I met several people through John Rook who are still Forgotten Hits Readers, friends and associates to this day, not the least of which is Gary Theroux, who wrote and organized the original History Of Rock And Roll syndicated radio special.  I got the chance to meet Gary face to face over a Bakers Square breakfast a few months ago after probably hundreds of emails over the years.

Although it never got the recognition and attention it deserved, The Hit Parade Hall Of Fame was VERY dear to John Rook's heart.  He talked often about how he hoped it would one day exist in the form of a physical museum that fans could visit, much like what The Rock Hall has done in Cleveland.  I'm really not sure who would spearhead such a project today now that Rook is gone.

He tried to launch Hit Parade Radio on a nationally syndicated basis (with on-air personalities like Wink Martindale and Larry Lujack.)  That deal fell through (though there is still a link to listen to music by the inducted artists on The Hit Parade Hall Of Fame website.)

We almost lost John a few years ago when he had a heart attack ... but he wasn't ready to go and bounced back remarkably, just as sharp as ever, even poking fun at his own "almost demise".  Whether I agreed with him or not, John Rook was ALWAYS interesting to talk to. 

On countless occasions he told me how he wanted to name me to the Hit Parade Hall Of Fame Nominating Committee but couldn't because of my outspoken views on the failings of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  It was a Catch-22 situation for me ... as I knew I would never compromise my honest, gut-felt expression or soften my position on all the ways this organization has let down the fans over the past few decades.  I have never lost sight of what The Rock Hall could have been ... and SHOULD have been ... but it was sad for me, too, not to be able to partake in such an honor.

I AM happy and proud to report, however, that two new committee members were added as a direct result of my suggestions and conversations with John Rook ... Jerry Osborne and Scott Shannon now occupy seats on the committee and they couldn't be more deserving.

John vacillated a little bit on what he thought Forgotten Hits could be ... on one occasion he would tell me that it was the best music sheet out there today ... the attention to detail and the "from the heart" styling could make Forgotten Hits the next Gavin Report, he would say, referring to the very popular music bible sheet sent to radio stations in the late '50's and early '60's.  "You just need to get the right people to read it."

Then in the next conversation he would chastise me for being "too local" ... "you've got to give up your ties to Chicago if you ever want to make it" and focus on a more national scope.  "Some of the people you write about didn't do shit ... they were barely a blip on the radar.  Nobody gives a rat's ass about The Cryan' Shames or The New Colony Six.  In the scheme of things, they did NOTHING!"

But I stayed loyal to our local heroes (which I know drove him mad!) who received equal airplay alongside the biggest recording acts on the planet at the time ... on radio stations that John Rook himself programmed!!!  And, the truth of the matter is that these profiles, articles and interviews have proven to be some of our most popular over the years.  Along the way we've introduced thousands of music fans to GREAT music they may not otherwise have been privileged to hear back in the day.

And then out of the blue he'd do a complete turn-around.  When Jim Peterik of The Ides Of March asked me once if I had any idea who he might have met with at WLS that suggested the "call and response" treatment on their #1 Hit "Vehicle", I called Rook right away and he recalled the conversation nearly note for note that took place between himself, DJ Art Roberts, Peterik and one of the Warner Brothers execs, which we then shared with our readers.  Jim then included that story in his own biography.

For as long as I've known him (and, most likely, MANY years prior to that) John talked about writing a book about his life in radio.  It would encompass all he did along the way ... his childhood friendship with Eddie Cochran, his dabbling with an acting career, his stint as a broadcaster and then finding his niche as a program director that won him numerous awards.  He never really finished it ... but the best, heart of the matter stories can be found on his website

Please also visit The Hit Parade Hall Of Fame ... check out the artists who have been previously inducted and vote for your favorite nominees on this year's ballot. 

I feel bad that I didn't keep in touch with John more than I did ... he was always a pleasure to talk to.  A few years ago he sent me an email that just said "Call me".  Come to find out he had lost all of his contacts and he was rebuilding his address book.  We ended up talking for nearly 90 minutes.  (I've always been REAL bad about staying in touch with people ... there just never seems to be enough time to do so ... and then you find out you're OUT of time ... and there will never be another time.  Sad.

Before I learned of his passing I must have thought to myself three or four times, "I really ought to call John ... check up on him and see how he's doing".  Too late now.   

Thanks for the education, John ... I appreciate it ... and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Check in with me from time to time from heaven ... and let me know if they're playing any Cryan' Shames music up there.
Kent Kotal
Forgotten Hits