American Bandstand – Philadelphia U.S.A
“Bandstand” – as it was originally titled, had it’s beginnings back in the fall of 1952 when it was created by Philadelphia station WFIL and was first hosted by a duo of Bob Horn and Lee Stewart. The two didn’t get along particularly well and in 1955 Stewart was encouraged to depart. Horn carried on with his unique format of televising kids dancing. Many of the early 50’s pop singers appeared on the show but Horn injected a new brand of music – r&b and rock and roll.
During this same time period a very young Dick Clark was hosting the radio version of “Bandstand” also at the WFIL studios. He was disappointed with the records he had to play and yearned to cross over more towards Horn’s format. Horn would open and close Clark’s radio show and then in-between host the televised version.
Then in the summer of 1956 Bob Horn fell from grace – hit with a drunk driven charge and was promptly dispatched. This was followed by a statutory rape charge – of which he was acquitted – then another drunk driving charge and then tax evasion. He had been very popular with the kids on Bandstand and they initially were reluctant to accept his young successor – Dick Clark. Clark quickly remedied that by personally speaking with the kids outside the studio as they were picketing the opening of his first program. When the doors opened – Clark was greatly relieved to see the would-be protestors enter into the studio – and “American Bandstand” was born.
Here is a chronological presentation – day-by-day with the performing artists on each program along with a scan of the recording performed and a artist photo – as well as a few time line presentations. I will take this presentation as far as I am able – toward and up-to-the-date when “American Bandstand” migrated to Los Angeles, California.
Opening Day – August 5th, 1957 – Bandstand Protest
When Bandstand MC Bob Horn was released and replaced by a young Dick Clark, several of the Bandstand teens protested carrying signs outside the studio on the streets. Dick Clark approached the group with a heartfelt explanation for the change and asked them just to give him a chance. He returned inside and awaited the opening of the initial show. When the doors opened he carefully watched those entering into the studio and there they were – the Regulars were going to give Dick Clark a try.
The programming for American Bandstand can get a little cloudy at times – Sources conflict at times – but here is a shot at the classic American teenager program
Bandstand Dress Codes
The rules and dress code were strict on American Bandstand. For the boys coats and or sweaters and ties were required. Girls had to wear skirts. The show would start at 2:30 PM each afternoon Philadelphia time and so the students from nearby West Catholic High School would be the first to arrive since school let out at 2:30. In the beginning the West Catholic girls wore their school uniforms into Bandstand. In short order the nuns put a prompt end to that requiring them to cover up their dresses with sweaters. White collars would protrude from their tops and soon young girls across the nation were imitating the “Bandbox Philadelphia Collar” style.
Hundred’s of teenagers would line up outside the studio for admittance each day – but a select group – who came to be known as “The Committee” (and by viewers as “The Regulars”) would be permitted automatic entry into the program each afternoon. Selection of Committee members was determined by fan mail which would run heavy for certain couples on the show. Once in a while a new couple would attract attention of the viewers and they would be added to the ranks of the chosen. At any given time there were about 30 Committee members who all held special membership cards guaranteeing them entry into the daily program and this would also ensure that viewers would see familiar faces.
Fan mail ran heavy for the regulars with thousands of pieces of mail arriving at the studio weekly. Dick Clark feels that perhaps the most popular of all the boys to appear on the show was Tommy DeNoble. He once was asked to appear at a Catholic school dance in Mahonoy City, PA by a priest to help boost the usual attendance which would be around 100 to 150 kids. When Tommy appeared, more than 1,500 showed up – larger than the teen population of the entire town.
Fan mail was screened by the WFIL staff by agreement with the kids due to pornographic material sometimes being enclosed or overly suggestive content and invitations – but most mail ran clean and innocent from every part of the world. Two couples who stood out from the “Regulars” were Bob Clayton with Justine Carrelli who became a “couple” on the show in the late 1950’s at the age of 14. They were followed by early 1960’s couple Ken Rossi and Arlene Sullivan. They were a contrast in styles – with Bob and Justine reflecting the a raunchier edge associated with the early rock and roll days, and with Ken and Arlene displaying a softer look as rock and roll began to smooth out somewhat.
Dick Clark recounts that in spite of the tremendous popularity of many of the programs “Regulars” – none would go on to become stars. Almost all would assume a place in life typical of most of us and they spread throughout the country far and wide. Bob and Justine won Bandstand’s first “jitterbug” contest, receiving over a million votes via the U.S. Mail. For their effort they won a 200 record player jukebox. The couple took a stab a stardom recording a single titled “Drive-In Movie” which quickly flopped. Bob and Justine soon thereafter broke up making room for the next Bandstand couple of choice.
The Go-To Performers
Dick Clark counted few performers on American Bandstand as “friends”. This wasn’t due to aloofness or by design but as he describes in his memoir “Rock, Roll and Remember” just how it was since most performers would arrive at the studio usually just moments before their performance and were staged in a holding room away from the kids.
Further, after performing they would usually exchange a few comments with Clark and then proceed directly to the autograph table and that was that. But he did have a few very close performing friends and these were Frankie Avalon and Fabian – both local Philadelphia kids. Francis Thomas Avallone and Fabiano Anthony Forte attended the same Philadelphia high school along with Ernest Evans (Chubby Checker). They were readily available to appear on the show especially when a performer was quickly needed since they lived so close by. Same held true for Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell.
Clark’s two closest musician friends were Bobby Darin (Walden Robert Cassotto) and Connie Francis (Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero). They were not locals – Darin from New York and Francis from New Jersey. The two were an item for a time and both would become very close friends with Dick Clark and would help him get through some of the tougher times in his life (payola scandal, divorce and the like).
Clark tells of getting to know other performers later on when he began his “Caravan of Stars” tours. On these he was thrown in with the performers for night after night – sharing a bus, motels and at first the indignities of performing in the South with mixed race musicians.
Speaking of a “Chubby Checker”
Dick Clark’s version of the naming of Ernest Evans was that Clark and his wife Barbara watched Evans perform which afterwards Barbara observed something along the lines of ‘He’s adorable – Just like a little Fats Domino – a Chubby Checker”.
In 1957 Dick Clark became one-fourth owner of Jamie Records. The first three acts to appear on the label were The Tritones, The Sharps and Robert Byrd and his Orchestra.
Jamie’s first significant sign was a guitar player who specialized in instrumentals featuring his electric bass guitar as the lead instrument. This was Duane Eddy who was brought to the attention of Jamie Records by his producer – Lee Hazelwood. His first release was “Moovin’ n’ Groovin'” b/w “Up and Down”. Eddy was featured as “Duane Eddy and His Twangy Guitar”.
The break-through recording for Jamie Records was “Rebel-‘Rouser” released in 1958 and charting at #6 in June of 1958. The rebel-like shouts and yells – and hand claps on the recording were performed by The Rivington’s of “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” and “The Bird’s The Word” fame.
Eddy was still listed as a solo act but would soon be credited as being backed by “The Rebels” with their debut being on Jamie 1111 “Cannon Ball” b/w Mason Dixon Line”. The “Rebels” were in fact a group of session musicians that included sax players Steve Douglas and Jim Horn as well as keyboardist Larry Knechtel – who would all become regulars for Phil Spector’s studio dramatics.
Starting up Swan Records in late 1957 was Clark’s second label partnership and would feature Freddy Cannon – a singer with limited range but who provided a whole lot of excitement. (I was fortunate to see Freddy Cannon twice – once at McNichol’s Arena in Denver and once on Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars in Fresno, California – He was the opener for both concerts and really got the crowds going.)
Swan’s first signing was an artist calling himself “Dicky Doo” who was Gerry Granahan. Clark and his associates thought the backing group should have a name but no one could decide until Swan partner Tony Mammarella shouted “For Christ sakes! Call them the ‘Don’ts!” Their first effort was Swan catalog number 4001 “Did You Cry” backed with “Click Clack” the “B” side. “Did You Cry” stumbled but “Click Clack” managed to become the charting side. One member of “The Don’ts” was former Rhythm Orchid Dave Alldred from that band which featured also Jimmy Bowen and Buddy Knox.
In the 1960’s Frank Slay would form Chicory Records and was a frequent visitor to Denver, Colorado to seek recording talent – attending KIMN radio’s “Battle of the Bands”. He landed The Boenqee Cryque, and The Rainy Daze among others.
The first big break-through for Swan came with a song written by Freddy Cannon’s mother with some assistance (probably a lot) from Bob Crewe and Frank Slay. Clark in his autobiography gives himself credit for suggesting the loud foot stomping beat in “Tallahassee Lassie” which put the record over the top and put Cannon on the road to fame.
Dick Clark tells of taking the idea for Swan Records label design directly from Specialty Records. He relates “We ripped off their label, after a fashion. They had a black and yellow label with special signature logo; we copied the label in maroon on white because we couldn’t afford more than one color.”
American Bandstand was all about the kids and the dancing. From the start the national viewing audience wanted to see the latest dance steps and the Bandstand camera crew accommodated them with close-ups of the dancer’s feet. Dick Clark recalls how many time new dances would spring up on Bandstand that didn’t have an actual recording to go with it. A good example was a dance the Philadelphia kids were doing which would become known as the “the stroll”.
The kids lined up for this dance to one of Chuck Willis’ recordings “C.C. Rider”. A guest act on Bandstand watched and asked Clark what they were doing. He told them and so they returned home to soon cut a new record. The Diamonds would realize a smash success with “The Stroll” a dance which will be performed as long at the last baby boomer can hit the dance floor.
Another example of reverse engineering a dance without a record was a popular step on Bandstand called the Calypso Cha-Cha. Clark’s own Swan Records would respond to this need with the release of Billy and Lillie’s “Luck Lady Bug”.
A monster dance step was introduced primarily on Bandstand when a young black couple were doing it. The Bandstand regulars gathered around to watch. Clark asked the couple what in the world they were doing to which they responded “The Twist!” as though he should have known. Soon Clark witnessed many of the Bandstand kids doing the step as well. Ernest Evans recorded a near identical version of the song as Hank Ballard’s earlier effort and hit the big time – twice in fact – with “The Twist” going to number one in successive years, making it the only record ever during the rock and roll era to re-enter the charts and return to the number 1 position.
Cameo Records was the beneficiary of many dance steps introduced on Bandstand – filling the need for a corresponding recording with releases from The Orlons (“The Wha Watusi” and “Crossfire”), Dee Dee Sharp (“Mashed Potatoes”), Bobby Rydell (“The Cha Cha Cha”), Chubby with (“Dance the Mess Around”, “The Fly”, “Limbo Rock”), Dee Dee Sharp (“Mashed Potato Time, “Ride”, and “Gravy”), and The Dovells (“The Bristol Stomp”, “Do the New Continental”, “Bristol Twistin’ Annie”, and “Hully Gully Baby”)
Cameo-Parkway was Philadelphia based and the label owners had close ties to Dick Clark. The entire label stable had easy access to appearing on American Bandstand and were often summoned with little notice when an act failed to show.
Clark’s dealings outside of American Bandstand would come into question when the ‘payola hearings’ descended on the music industry and he would be forced at the suggestion of ABC to divest himself of his publishing and record label interests. These interests would still be in question when Clark was summoned to appear before the payola congressional hearings – More on those hearings later which were a thinly veiled assault on rock and roll and black music in general.
By 1959 American Bandstand was being watched by 20 million fans nationally and millions more around the world. In 1961 the show went from 90 minutes each week day to a one hour format. This was followed by a further reduction in air-time to one-half hour starting in September of 1962. Much was lost when the show began taping five episodes all on single Saturdays in 1963 to be shown during the week and allowing Dick Clark to turn his attention to other endeavors.
Then, in September of 1963 the show went to a Saturday only format – broadcasting again for a full hour. This continued up through 1989.
Move to L.A.
“American Bandstand” departed from Philadelphia on February 8th, 1974 moving into the ABC Television Center in Los Angeles. Full-time color TV broadcasts were in place by September, 1967.
The first instrumental theme song for the local version of “Bandstand” was “High Society” by Artie Shaw. But then when the program went national in 1957 Larry Elgart’s version of “Bandstand Boogie” was used for the next 12 years. It was written by Charles Albertine. Then in 1969 American Bandstand switched to a synthesized “Bandstand Theme” composed by Mike Curb. This was from 1969 until 1974. Next up from 1974 until 1977 was Joe Porter’s “Bandstand Boogie” arrangement. Finally in 1977 the show featured Barry Manilow’s rendition of “Bandstand Boogie” – a vocal version. This was played until the very end of the Dick Clark era – 1987.
The Final Hurrah
The show lived on – barely – on a new network “USA Network” hosted by David HIrsch but produced by Dick Clark. The very last show was broadcast on April 8th, 1989. By this time – the very first Philadelphia teenagers to appear on the local version of the show (1952) had entered into their mid 50’s. And today many would be into their early 80’s!