Friday, November 21, 2008

In Praise Of Barry Richards' "Turn On"

This being the 7th entry in the Blog Of Doom and the final entry for November, 2008, I would like to share something very choice and significant to me and any one else who is a fan of early 1970's arena rock!

I have so far documented people. places and events that have shaped my career and made me the musician and entertainer that I am today! I would now like to enlighten you on another piece of that puzzle and that would be Washington D.C.'s most unknown and unprecedented music TV show, "Barry Richards Turn On" which first aired in late 1970!

There has never been a show like this before or sense! Every Friday night at 11:00 PM on WDCA Channel 20, a local underground radio jock hipster named Barry Richards would fill the TV screen with a close up of his bearded face introducing some of the worlds most legendary rock acts! These were all recorded live in the tiny WDCA studios with used painter's tarp backdrops and easels with black felt surfaces and Velcro dayglow letters, peace signs and eyeballs! This set had the feel of the old Bozo TV show we used to watch starring our local TV legend Willard Scott!

Barry Richards was a pioneer in Washington D.C. bringing to the area it's first underground radio! He also was the local concert promoter who brought nothing but the best hard rock entertainment to the nation's capitol! By far though his greatest contribution to the local music scene had to be his killer hard rock TV show," Barry Richards' Turn On"!

Instead of clowns and cartoons though we got The Bob Seger System, Alice Cooper, Crow, Mitch Rider, Humble Pie, Zephyr, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Richie Havens, The Illusion and others too numerous to mention and too long ago to remember!

If we didn't catch it on Frday night, it would air the next day at 12:00 noon!
Who could forget the performance of The Bob Seger System playing their hits from "Mongrel" at such deafening volume that the microphones good barely handle it or that Bob Seger himself was once an acid rock guitar hero long before becoming a commercial pop vocalist?

The Bob Seger System blasted hits off their 2nd LP, "Mongrel" , "Song for Rufus", "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" and "Lucifer" on the Barry Richards' "Turn On"!

Who could forget the mighty "Crow" blast their 1970's hit "Cottage Cheese" with their monster drummer Denny Craswell growling like an animal during the middle drum solo segment?

Crow, a great band from minnesota who could rock with the best of them appeared on Barry Richards' "Turn On"!

Who could forget Alice Cooper's first appearance on TV since he was first exposed to America on Michael Quatro's "Midsummer Rock" special in 1970 or forget their performance of 'Eighteen" the week the single came out, all in front of a small audience?

Alice Cooper performed 2 songs on "Turn On", "Eighteen" and "Black Ju Ju"!

Who could forget a young and multicolored hair Tommy Bolin burning lead guitar with Colorado's heaviest female fronted rock act, Zephyr?

Zephyr appeared on "Turn On" with a very young Tommy Bolan who went on to later play guitar for The James Gang and Deep Purple!

Who could forget Long Island New York's super group "The Illusion" play their nationwide hit "Can You See Her Eyes?" and "Since I Met You Babe" that was actually used as the intro music for Barry's show?

The Illusion recorded a song that was to become the "Turn On" theme song! They later performed on the show with a toe tapping Barry Richards off to the side grooving to one of his favorite groups!

Who could forget the legendary performance of Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band who had a whole episode set aside for them as they played songs from "Lick My Decals Off Baby" and all members were featured with solo spots complete with a childs sparking ray gun fired repeatedly in the darkened studio by Ed Marimba, all for the sake of art? You just can't make stuff like this up!

Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band, after seeing them on "Turn On" life was never quite the same!

It is important to note that these TV shows coincided with the concerts that Barry promoted at the Alexandria roller rink (See "Alexandria Roller Rink Alumni 1971") and would feature some of the bands playing that venue or elsewhere in the Washington Metro Area!

Well, unfortunately I was one of the few if any who payed attention to "Turn On" as hardly anyone from Washington,D.C. remembers it! The people I know who did see it have kept their friendships with me going all these years as if viewing this masterpiece of a show was tantamount to a mass U.F.O sighting!

These shows were so important to rock history and had all but disappeared until my friend and I got a tip in 1983 about somebody who had owned a reel to reel video recorder back in 1971 and had recorded a bunch of the shows! We contacted him and were told that he would not meet with us in person but would have a friend meet us and let us in his house to operate the ancient video recorder while I inputed my brand new VCR to make copies! I remember this all feeling very 007 like! Needless to say we hot footed it over to the house with my VCR in hand to start duplicating copies!

We arrived and were let in by the friend who immediately informed us that he only had permission to let us have 1 hour with the machine and that was all! I privately joked with my friend that we had just walked in to a video whorehouse!

He then brought out the archaic reel to reel machine that must have been made out of lead because it almost broke the table as he set it down!

When we got everything hooked up and running, we noticed that the tape heads on the old unit were not stabilizing the tape very well and the tracking kept drifting, creating terrible glitches! This was most evident towards the beginning of the tape but got settled down toward the middle as the opposing tape spool got fuller. Unfortunately one of the biggest finds on the tape was the Illusion's performance and was near the beginning and was plagued with unwatchable glitches! We remained calm and on the 6th try we manually adjusted the tracking as we went and managed to get the best it was going to offer us and it was nothing real great but you could watch at least some of it!

Then came Crow's segment which was much better with only 2 very small tremors in the visual part of the tape! All three songs were intact!

Alice Cooper's performance was missing the second song "Black Ju Ju" but Eighteen was still there!

Unfortunately that was all he had captured and it was all in black and white ta boot as the show had originally aired in color! Their were so many bands on that show that were missing from that 11 year old tape! Fortunately for us though we had managed to capture the last remnant of a historic TV show and were extremely lucky to now have it in our possession! We knew that there weren't many of those tape machines around in the 1970's! Back then they were state of the art and extremely expensive! The odds of anybody ever recording "Turn On" with one of these antiques were nil at best!

It was a unit much like this that held the only footage left of "The Illusion" and "Crow's" performance on the "Barry Richards' Turn On"!

Flash to 2008! I was puttering around my house one weekend and got a phone call from a man named Eli who was half my age but seemed to know everything about "Turn On"! He told me that he had been in touch with Barry Richards himself and was making a deal to buy the original tapes from him which he had thankfully removed from WDCA TV where they had been stored!

Eli told me that he had plans to release the old shows on DVD in a collectors box set which I was overjoyed about! Unfortunately a lot of these videos had been destroyed in a house flood at Barry's years ago but he had managed to save the majority of them! Eli like me saw the historical importance of these shows with their time capsule accuracy! I told him that I had a few shows on tape! He was already aware of that fact and that's why he had contacted me! He asked me if I would include my footage which contained performances that had been destroyed in the aforementioned house flood? Of course I agreed!

I then set him up with his own copies of what I had managed to get way back in 1983!
We have kept in touch every other week to this day as he updates me on the progress of his fantastic project! A real breakthrough came when his inquires lead him to a color version of the Bob Seger System's ultra-heavy performance! This was landmark because this had been on the first episode of "Turn On"!

For me to say any more would give away too much about this iconic TV show before it is released on DVD! The important news is that it will once again show itself on old school rock fan's TV screens for the first time in almost 4 decades! This time it will be offered to the whole world for it's viewing pleasure and in most places for the first time! "Turn On" was a real piece of rock history and is poised and ready to jump out of obscurity and into your living rooms to make history all over again!

In the words of Barry Richards himself so many years ago at the end of each show, "PEACE, LOVE, BY - CYCLE!!!!!!


Anonymous said...

Can't wait, especially for the Zephyr footage.

Anonymous said...

i can't wait to see the Zephyr segment!!!Bolin rules!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm pals with Denny Craswell (Crow). We can't wait to see that!

Anonymous said...

I followed the show religiously when I lived in Adelphi, Md. It was the most subversive local program on tv and has never been surpassed. Barry also interviewed visiting celebrities like Anita Gillette and screened old movie serials like Jungle Girl in between bands. He called it free-form television. There was no time limit on the show so sometimes it could go on for several hours late into the night. To a teenager living in the stifling hell-hole of conformist Maryland it was a breath of fresh air. After the series was inexplicably cancelled, Richards had a short lived show on possibly the same channel one afternoon where he aired the Mick Rock music video of David Bowie's Jean Genie in the fall of 72.
Barry Richards was soon cancelled by the morons running local TV in Maryland and nothing has happened there since.

-Nick Zedd

Anonymous said...

Barry Richards even encouraged local amateur filmmakers to submit movies to be aired on Turn On, so at the age of 15, I visited the channel 20 studio with a bunch of my early stuff, along with a friend who also made super 8 movies. We projected The Return of the Giant Fly and Fria the Wolf onto the office walls while the producer ignored our work. We were hoping to meet Barry but he wasn't there. We did see Capt. 20 (Dick Daizel?) in his silver spacesuit before we left. Nobody called us back to show our movies. They never showed any local stuff, but TURN ON was still great. Where else was anything approaching a counterculture visible on television in Maryland before or since? Channel 20 was the best channel. Barry Richards was the closest thing we had to a hipster hero. I can't wait to see those old tapes if they ever come out.

-Nick Zedd

mdm said...

I grew up in Baltimore and remember seeing the Alice Cooper, Captain Beefheart,Zephyr and Crow performances. I am looking forward to the DVD release.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Barry produce shows out at WHMC in Gaithersburg? Iirc, I saw Black Pearl there.

Were the "Wing Ding" shows preserved?

Anonymous said...

Was Barry Richards 'KISS' show lost or preserved. Do you have any information about that appearance.