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Dick Clark: 20 Years of Clearasil Rock

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When they hauled Dick Clark before the House Subcommittee, he showed them just how much he slept, and how wide awake he could be. Accused of favoring records in which he had a financial interest, he hired Computek, a firm that did consulting for the US government, to check his records. "I'll show you how fucking innocent I was," said Clark. "They [the government] went to one of the biggest broadcasting chains in the world that was riddled with payola. Rotten, fucking, lousy, stinking mess. They arrived on a Thursday night, said, 'We'll be back tomorrow to examine the logs.' Somehow or other when they went back on Friday there weren't any logs. They had disappeared. One of the biggest spokesmen in the broadcasting business, who was looked upon as sitting at the right hand of God, said, 'I'm aghast at this,' on and on. And it all went, zappo, to Dick Clark, 27-year-old cat in Philadelphia. 'You want the records? Here they are! Look at them!' I could've burned those motherfuckers in two minutes. I had them examined; the examiner said 'You're right, you're straight.' They thought – dummies – I mean, 'How could a kid in Philadelphia make that much money?' They thought people came in with carloads and bagloads of cash and put it in my office. I found a better way to do it: to be in the music business. It was offensive to me, they thought I was that ignorant." And the fact that one of his labels admitted paying people to play records – "That blew their minds, but that's not what they were after. They wanted to prove I was the taker of bribes." Clark ended up dumping his corporations.

("It was called 'With a Shotgun to Your Head,' which would you like to be, in the music business or the television business?" Clark scratched lightly at his bear-greaseless hair. "Do you have any idea what those would be worth now? Who could predict that in another dozen years the industry would be a $2 billion-a-year business? I can't even think about that; I'd stay up nights thinking of the loss. I made the wrong choice!"

(Clark laughed – he's coming on naive again. But then, asked, if he was simply "in the music business," why he set up 33 corporations instead of one or two, he replied quickly: "There were tax laws in those days, capital gains situations. It was more advantageous to set up companies and fold them. It doesn't work anymore.")

The end result of the investigation, said Clark, "was the Chairman, Oren Harris, said something about the fact that you're a bright, young man and I hope we haven't inconvenienced you. 'Inconvenienced?' Hell, they took my right testicle and almost my left!"

He still did better than most. There were those that were forced out of town – and there was Alan Freed.

Freed was the biggest of the pioneers, and he was rich from radio, television, live concerts and – of course – "gifts," from songwriting credits on Chuck Berry compositions to – and this was his downfall – cash. On the eve of the payola hearings, he lost both his radio and TV jobs; the next year, after the hearings, he was indicted on payola charges in Los Angeles. Later, shortly before his death in 1965, he was indicted again for evading $47,920 in income taxes. The first case was finally dumped in 1964, and Freed was fined $300. But he was dying, by then.

"I was the last friend Alan had," says Dick Clark, "and I don't want to say what he did wrong. He made a lot of mistakes. I never met the man in my heyday, when I was king and he started at all. I met him afterwards, and he was groveling around and I tried to get him a job, and two days before he died I was called to contribute to keep him in the hospital, and, you know, it was just one of those terrible... bad scenes. You don't want to know about it."

But I did, and, interestingly enough, Lance Freed, Alan's son, now 25 and working at A & M Records in Los Angeles, could not recall such a closeness between his dad and Dick Clark. "There was a cordial, professional relationship before the hearings," he said, "but there wasn't a lot of contact afterwards." With his dying father in a Palm Springs hospital, Lance remembered people calling and bringing food, "But I never recall Dick Clark calling or coming down."

Clark corrected himself: "It was not an intimate friendship; I was one of several trying to get him back going again... Alan was the King, he found it, he had the gut reaction. He wasn't bright enough."

While Dick Clark, from Syracuse University, in business administration, was bright enough?

"What you're intimating now," he caught on, "and you're right – I had a little more education. Alan had raw emotions; I knew the game."

Dick Clark will survive. He is grossing between $5 and $6 million a year with his enterprises. The old Caravan of Stars idea is now the country's second or third largest concert production firm. On TV, he is busier than ever, doing specials for NBC, hosting a game show on CBS, dominating the area of rock on ABC, with productions of In Concert shows and specials, recent ones starring Roberta Flack and Chicago. And, of course, there's American Bandstand, still, as far as he's concerned, in its prime.

"Opposed to the Fifties, it has two-and-a-half times the audience. Due primarily to growth in the television audience, I grant you that. But it still reaches an average of ten million record buyers a week. Its demographic composition has never changed in 20 years: 25% subteens, 25% teens and 50% 18-to-35, primarily women. There's no program in the history of television like that – and they all buy records."

Clark will continue to host the show until someone runs him out of the network. Then, he says, he would syndicate it. What's he holding onto? "First and foremost," he replies, "it pays very well, and, secondly, it's become such a gigantic part of my personal life, it'll be a big trauma when it's canceled."

In Dick Clark's world, some things – the need to work, and make money, and maintain a name – don't change. But even he admits that there is more to today's nostalgia-mania than the mass remembrance of old times, so exploitable, as he knows, through albums, movies and TV.

"I look back on those as not the prime, but the fucking good old days," he says. "Those were more fun days, because, I guess, all of life in the Fifties and the early Sixties was more fun than it is now. We're rapidly getting back to that. We're all trying to get back to a simpler, less aggravating way of life. I don't think we'll accomplish it."

This story is from the August 16th, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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