There was a time, mostly in the Sixties, when like all politics, the best rock & roll television was local. Top 40 disc jockeys hosted low-budget dance parties modeled on American Bandstand, with stars breezing through for lightweight interviews and to perform – usually mime – their current singles. Cleveland had Upbeat; Detroit had Swingin' Time with Robin Seymour; I had the Hy Lit Show in Philly.
Washington D.C. had Barry Richards, a popular jock and emcee of Groove-In, who turned heavy, grew a beard and, in 1970, launched a series of shows on WDCA-TV variously titled Barry Richards Presents, Turn-On and Barry Richards Rock Show – all-night amalgams of B-movies, camp TV serials and live performances by touring rock acts. Production values varied from little to none, based on the more than two dozen clips assembled on the DVD/CD set, Barry Richards TV Collection Vol. 1 (BarryRichardsShows.com). The original Alice Cooper band promotes 1970's Love It to Death with feral versions of "(I'm) Eighteen" and "Black Juju" for what looks like a library reading group, a dozen teens sitting cross-legged in front of a low flat-bed stage. In another episode, Richards introduces Fats Domino, backed by the 1970 lineup of the Byrds – then walks in front of the camera, on his way offstage, as Domino jumps into "I'm in Love Again" and Byrds guitarist Clarence White fires curls of twang on his Telecaster.
The Seger Session
There is a big slice of Humble Pie on the DVD, a long take on Muddy Waters' "Rollin' Stone" done the way the Pie pressed it on to 1971's Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore. There's no audience here, but singer-guitarist Steve Marriott's Cockney-Otis Redding overdrive is a marvel in tight focus, as a bearded Peter Frampton answers Marriott's testifying on guitar with jazzy facility.
But the hot shock is the bludgeoning three-song reel of the Bob Seger System, circa their 1970 classic, Mongrel. Seger, only 25, looks like Detroit Rock City dynamite in a snakeshit shirt, playing a Gibson customized in American-flag decor, and belts his garage-rock nugget "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" with white-soul might. Seger was still half a decade away from national breakout. It is a credit to Richards' cool and care that he booked Seger for television when he could barely fill East Coast clubs, then kept the footage safe for four decades.
Navigating the DVD's menu means a lot of clicking if you want to skip the ephemera and jump right to the meat, between Seger, Cooper, Zephyr with a still-teenage Tommy Bolin on guitar and the 1973 clip of master Irish blues guitarist Rory Gallagher. And Richards' interviews are bigger on banter than revelation. A chat with Little Richard, included on the CD, from a 1966 radio show, is basically a list of Richard's tour dates. But Richards was everywhere it mattered – the CD includes a 1964 conversation with the Beatles – and he had superior underground-radio taste. In a 1970 sequence, a San Diego-area band called Jamul – who issued one LP, the blues-rock monster Jamul (Lizard) – carves up "Tobacco Road" like the early Animals with Led Zeppelin brawn, out in the woods with a generator and amps on full. The CD has audio from a 1970 TV appearance by Dr. John in his Night Tripper era, crawling through "Gris Gris" with growling voodoo menace, and two solo songs pulled from a rare small-screen sighting by Beatlesque-pop icon Emitt Rhodes, who disappeared from records shortly thereafter.
According to the booklet included with Barry Richards TV Collection, one episode aired in 1970 – and not included here – featured Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, performing high dada from 1970's Lick My Decals Off, Baby. May we have that, with the video of Rhodes and Dr. John, on Vol. 2? And more Jamul, please.
For more information, go to BarryRichardsShows.com