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Digital Subscriptions > Vintage Rock > Sep/Oct 2019 > PAYOLA 1959!

PAYOLA 1959!

Alan Freed was one of the great champions of rock and roll, but would become engulfed in scandal in the late 1950s…
Disgraced American DJ Alan Freed (1921-1965) was the ultimate rock and roll impresario
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Rock and rolls mid- 1950s explosion made instant stars of the genres groundbreaking first generation. Those icons weren’t the only dynamic voices that teenagers dug daily over the American radio airwaves. A battalion of mellifluous, motormouthed DJs spun the latest hits and promoted the latest discoveries, their manic patter complementing the savage music they championed.

Those major-market disc jockeys wielded incredible power over what aired during their shifts. They could instantly make or break a new act because the majority of them programmed the records they played during their airshifts. It soon became apparent to a lot of them just how much money could be accrued under the table from the hordes of independent record labels and distributors eager to lock down crucial airplay that would make their records national hits.

At the time, no Federal laws prohibited what became known as “payola”. A public uproar happened anyway when publicity hungry legislators and stodgy defenders of middle-of-the-road pop music decided that rock and roll had become a full-fledged threat to the status quo and decided to make pariahs out of a handful of leading rock and roll DJs by dragging them into court and congressional chambers to testify to their alleged transgressions.

Quite a few popular jocks lost their jobs and careers across the United States in the wake of the investigations, whether or not they admitted to receiving payoffs. Alan Freed, responsible more than any other American radio personality for tirelessly promoting the rock and roll cause over the airwaves, was ruined by the allegations and died a broken man a few years later. Dick Clark, host of the nationally televised daily record hop American Bandstand, got off scot-free and endured as a ubiquitous television presence for another half-century.

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About Vintage Rock

In this issue of Vintage Rock we enter the riotous world of Wanda Jackson. She's finally just hung up her touring boots this year aged 81, so we decided it was time to honour the Queen Of Rockabilly's tenure at the top from her incredible rise to glory as both a country and rockabilly star to her greatest ever performances – "It's been a wild ride!" Little Miss Dynamite goes out with a bang! We got the exclusive on Brenda Jackson's retirement too! In our candid interview Brenda remembers her spectacular career, from rubbing shoulders with Elvis to surviving the British Invasion intact. It's been 60 years since the storming debut album that positioned Cliff Richard as the UK's own Elvis – with The Drifters in support – we remember a raw classic. It's also been 60 years since rock'n'roll was hit with it's first major scandal. Inside we get to the bottom of the infamous 'Payola Scandal', the real rock'n'roll swindle in which the scene's major players had to face the music. From villains to heroes, we talk to Memphis Mafia man Jerry Schilling about his days with Elvis and the upcoming 'Elvis In Concert' tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, plus we speak to instrumental hero Johnny Farina, one half of duo Santo & Johnny, about their timeless hit 'Sleepwalk'. Bringing things up to date, we chat with Darrel Higham about his new album Bop Machine, we met Nick Lowe, who tells about his new project with masked marauders Los Straitjackets, and we review Stray Cats long-awaited return to the London stage – and what a night it was! Plenty more besides from fresh talent and rockin' weekenders to news, reviews and more!