If you’re a regular listener to Dave Watts’ Blues Cruise on Friday evenings from 6 to 8 pm, you may have wondered who the guy is who does the historical/educational segment at around 6:15 pm. This story will shed some light on that.
Biography of Bill Clark – the voice and record collection of Blues Cruise:
During the first half of the 20th century, I began to hear and enjoy a wide variety of musical styles on the radio and in my parents’ record collection. They listened to show tunes, especially “South Pacific”, and big bands, especially Glenn Miller and a variety of symphonic classics. Eventually, I commandeered our bright red Arvin portable radio so that I could listen to top 40 music from Milwaukee and Chicago. I sang in the Presbyterian Church youth choir and tried half-heartedly to learn piano. But Rock’n’Roll was happening and it was a frequent subject of our youthful musical discussions. A friend of mine expressed his preference for “I’m Walkin’” by Ricky Nelson when a big kid overheard us, and felt it his duty to set us straight. “Fats Domino’s version is better.” he asserted with all the authority that big kids commanded. From that moment on, I began to look behind the glossy star-making veneer of popular culture to find the creative sources which gave it substance.
The glory days of early rock’n’roll gave way to the teen idol period. In my own teen years, I was drawn to folk music. I became aware of Black American musicians like Josh White, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. But my greatest exposure to the other side of the segregated music scene was through the British Invasion of the mid-60’s. The Rolling Stones and other British R&B bands were covering music that, though made in America, was not presented to the White American record buyer. On the first Stones album were covers of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Marvin Gaye, Rufus Thomas and Slim Harpo. Around the same time, I found WLAC, a powerful Nashville radio station that broadcast at night throughout the south and mid-west. DJs John R. and Gene Nobles played the real thing – beer-drinking blues from Chicago and points south. Then the hunt was on. Mayfair Mall did not have records by Muddy or Jimmy, so I had to take the bus to downtown Milwaukee – the store was Radio Doctor’s at 3rd and Wells.
In the mid-sixties I moved to Madison to become a Badger. Here I found record stores that carried all the greats of jazz and blues and were within walking distance of my dorm. Before long, I was able to satisfy my hunger for the real thing, at least within the limits of my student budget. The LP collection just grew. I found a lot of written clues in the music magazines of the day such as Hit Parader, thinly-disguised as a teeny bopper magazine but containing articles and interviews which focused on music; Downbeat, the jazz magazine that also reviewed modern urban blues; Crawdaddy, the first “underground” music magazine; of course Rolling Stone before it became more of a movie magazine, and Musician – Player and Listener, that during its brief lifetime turned me on to music and musicians of every genre.
Flash forward to the 70’s, which were perhaps the golden years of the Madison blues scene. The Church Key and Crystal Corner Bar booked great blues artists and I availed myself regularly. I heard Jr. Wells, Otis Rush, James Cotton, Big Walter Horton, and all the Kings – Albert, B.B. and Freddy. The local and regional bands also played great blues. Artists like Jim Liban with Short Stuff, Bryan Lee, Duke Tomato and the All-Star Frogs and Paul Black and the Flip Kings all deserved the love of the local blues audience. It was my blues heaven, but it did not last forever.
Popular tastes change with the generations. As young listeners follow the trends into the future, I find myself following the same kinds of clues I used when checking the song-writer credits on early Stones LPs. Now I have the internet and a library of records and books accumulated over 60 years of collecting to help my research. Since Dave Watts gave me the chance to show my stuff during his show, I have continued to read and listen and accumulate. All of the WORT family has been friendly and encouraging, but I give special thanks to Dave Watts, my sponsor, and to Norm Stockwell, my editor. It was and continues to be a dream come true. Thanks to all who support WORT and thanks to Madison, the town I love.