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Posts Tagged ‘Elvis Presley’

 (Above: Elvis brings a mid-year Christmas to Kemper Arena in 1977.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

When Elvis Presley, who would have celebrated his 75th birthday today, rolled into Kansas City for the first of two concerts at Kemper Arena, he was far from the hungry, hunky artist who terrorized parents and could only be shown on television from the waist down.

Presley played the arena twice in the last 18 months of his life. Although the monarchy was waning, the King could still captivate a crowd. Jess Ritter wrote about Presley’s initial show on April 21, 1976, in the Kansas City Times.

“From the moment (Elvis) strode onstage last night, though, he proved clearly that, at age 41, he is still one of the most charismatic entertainers in America,” Ritter wrote. “Elvis worked hard in his stint, which lasted well over an hour. The punk hip gyrations of the past are gone and all his movements are carefully choreographed, but they are vividly real – and insinuating. In his ice-blue shirt, white singlet and tight white pants encircled at the waist with a massive rhinestone belt, Elvis dominated the stage without trying too hard.”

Ritter doesn’t mention many of the songs played in the brief review, focusing instead on Presley’s medical conditions and history. The only number mentioned by name was “Return to Sender.”

Presley’s bicentennial show wasn’t his first stop in town. He played Municipal Auditorium – the biggest concert hall in town prior to the construction of Kemper Arena – in 1971 and 1974. The venue was also the site of Presley’s only previous Kansas City concert, on May 24, 1956.

Such frequent performances were part of the King’s new motif. After the success of his ’68 Comeback Special, Presley ditched Hollywood and returned to the stage. The TCB Band, anchored by former Ricky Nelson guitarist James Burton, accompanied him on most of those occasions.

The band that rolled into Kemper 14 months later, in June, 1977, was more or less the same, with two exceptions. Drummer Larry London had replaced Ronnie Tutt, who left to join the Grateful Dead Jerry Garcia Band. Tony Brown debuted with the band that night on keyboards – without the benefit of any rehearsals.

Brown, now a Nashville music executive, spoke with an Australian Elvis fan site about his time in the TCB Band. He said Presley liked to surprise the band. One night the King called for “Blueberry Hill, which wasn’t in the repertoire.

“I just started playing the rhythm of the song, you know,” Brown said. “This is in front of, like, 20,000 people. I’m sweating. I mean you can feel the water rolling.”

Brown suffered the collective skunk eye from his bandmates until Presley bailed him out.

“Elvis says, ‘That’s not the way it goes,’ walks over to the piano, sits down and plays something. Then the band kicks in,” Brown recalled. “He started singing it and got up and left and out in front and did the next couple of songs I was worthless. I mean total embarrassment, you know.”

While Brown fared better in his debut, his boss was not so lucky. Shifra Stein described the spectacle for the Kansas City Times.

“Looking in desperate need of a rest (Presley) drank frequently on stage from a paper cup. Sometimes he stood to one side, eyes closed, and let his show troupe take over for him,” Stein wrote. “At other times, in mocking self-parody, he ran through all his old songs – ‘Jailhouse Rock,’ ‘It’s Now or Never,’ ‘Hound Dog,’ ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and so on. In several instances he forgot his lyrics, and at one point sang ‘My Way’ reading the lyrics from a paper, explaining to the audience ‘I can’t remember the words.’”

But the sold-out crowd didn’t care.

“The arena was filled with thousands of aging teenagers,” Stein wrote, “mostly women in their 30s whose voices rose to a maddened shriek when their beloved idol climbed on stage about 10 p.m.”

They bought $5 belt buckles, “souvenir programs with poorly reproduced Elvis photos for $3” and snapped up tickets being scalped for $50. Stein estimated the evening “represented almost one-quarter of a million dollars in profit for Presley who is currently raking it in on tour across the country.”

The concerts were the crown jewel of Kansas City’s return to national prominence at a time when the city boasted Major League Baseball, NFL, NBA and NHL franchises and hosted the 1976 Republican National Convention. Although an outdated relic today, Kemper Arena was the bait that lured the NHL and NBA teams and RNC to town.

The night after Presley played Kemper, his band took the stage in Omaha, Neb. That performance and the following nights in Lincoln, Neb. and Rapid City, S.D. were immortalized on the album “Elvis in Concert.” Just five nights later, Presley concluded his spring tour in Indianapolis. That June 26 concert, little more than a week after his performance in Kansas City, would be his last. Six weeks later, Presley was dead.

Setlist: Elvis Presley, Kemper Arena, June 18, 1977

2001 Theme, See See Rider, I Got A Woman, Amen, That’s All Right, Blue Christmas, Are you Lonesome Tonight?, Big Boss Man, Love Me, Jailhouse Rock, O Sole Mio, It’s Now or Never, Little Sister, Teddy Bear, Don’t Be Cruel, And I Love You So, My Way, Early Morning Rain, What’d I Say, Johnny B. Goode, I Really Don’t Want to Know, Hurt, Hound Dog, Can’t Help Falling In Love, Closing Vamp

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Down on “Cypress Avenue”

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(Above: Ornette Coleman jams with the Roots. Improbably, people respond positively to the non-traditional collaboration.)

By Joel Francis

In 1958, Danny and the Juniors sang “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay.” Although the genre was only seven years removed from the its birth on the “Rocket 88” single and three years from its explosion into the mainstream with Elvis Presley, Danny White was right. Sixty years later, it is hard to imagine American culture without rock and roll.

It is also hard to imagine what the malt-shop teens and leather jacket hoods of the Eisenhower administration would have thought about auto-tune, power pop and nu-metal. Although the seeds of today’s rock were planted in the 1950s, the resulting flora has blossomed into hybrids that bear little resemblance to the original crop.

Picture how different today’s musical landscape would be if anything that varied from the pre-British Invasion strains of rock and roll were bastardized. If songs bearing the touch of John Lennon and Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were decried as impure for straying from the “true” roots of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.  Or if anything after the summer of punk and the rise of synthesizers was kept at arm’s length and segregated from the great Rock Cannon.

Would we expect our children to dig out old Bill Haley and Beach Boys albums if this were the case? Teach them “Fun Fun Fun” and “Maybelline” as historical exercises? Of course not. They would shrug, pay us lip service and invent their own confounding strain of music. The ties to existing music would be obvious – nothing emerges in a vacuum – but nothing we couldn’t dismiss as the impure follies of youth.

Why, then, do we place the same parameters around jazz and feign surprise with then inevitable occurs?

It seems every year a new study comes out showing the median age of jazz listeners climbs while attendance drops. The latest is a National Endowment for the Arts Survey of Public Participation in the Arts conducted through the U.S. Census Bureau. Predictably, the self-appointed Guardians of Jazz like Wall Street Journal columnist and former Kansas City resident Terry Teachout are freaking out. But all this hand-wringing is like an ordinary bicycle enthusiast fretting while the chain-driven model populates the streets. The vehicle is still very much alive, it’s just been modified and influenced by culture.

Too many jazz museums and concert curators suffer from WWWS: What would Wynton say. Would Wynton Marsails, the genre’s most prominent performer and steadfast caretaker, approve of their exhibit or event? While Marsalis is a talent trumpet player who deserves every bit of his fame and credit for bringing jazz to the masses, he is conservative and traditionalist to a fault. Museum directors and concert promoters should be following their own muse and vision, not looking to someone as restrictive as Marsalis for tacit endorsement.

The growth of jazz from Dixieland to big band to bebop is celebrated, but somewhere along the line – about 1965, shortly before John Coltrane’s death, when free jazz and fusion started to creep into the mix – a line was drawn. In shorthand, acoustic Herbie Hancock playing with Miles Davis and recording for Blue Note is “good” jazz; synthesizer-rocking Hancock’s best-selling “Head Hunters,” though, is “bad.”

If directors and promoters must get the thumbs-up from a Marsalis, could it please be Branford? Although a lesser celebrity, the tenor saxophone player and older brother of Wynton has equally distinguished jazz pedigree. He’s also allowed jazz to grow, branching into pop with Sting, serving as musical director for the Tonight Show and working with hip hop artists.

If the stodgy stylistic caretakers turned up their noses when jazz artists, the highest pedigree of musicians, started dabbling in rock and funk, they have completely ignored most jazz performers slumming with rappers in a genre oft-maligned for possessing the lowest level of musicianship.

The elitists are missing the point. At their best, jazz and hip hop are better together than chocolate and peanut better. The improvisational aspect of jazz fits the free-flowing poetry delivered by a great MC. The swing of the instruments matches the swagger of the beats. Dig the way DJ Logic’s turntable work complements Medeski, Martin and Wood’s “Combustication” album, how Mos Def and Q-Tip’s rhymes soar over Ron Carter’s live basslines, or how Roy Hargrove’s trumpet pushes and accentuates Common’s poetry.

Teachout and Wynton Marsalis’ simplified stances ignore the long history of jazz in popular culture. The enduring standard “Someday My Prince Will Come,” was plucked from Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Although both Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong released albums of Disney material, it is doubtful Wynton Marsalis would record a song from a children’s cartoon.

The Chicken Little jazz forecasts don’t show that jazz is less popular or interesting today. The news they bring is even more disturbing: hard evidence that the standard-bearers of the genre are increasing ignorant to how their beloved music has grown, changed and been embraced. They’re the ones missing the party, but don’t worry – their numbers are dwindling.

(Below: More Ornette Coleman with the Roots for all the alarmists. Note how well the musicians play together despite being from the disparate worlds of jazz and hip hop. Surely this is a sign of the apocalypse.)

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Chris Clark – “Love’s Gone Bad,” Pop #105, R&B #41

By Joel Francis

Producers had been looking for a “white singer with a black sound” long before Sam Phillips signed Elvis Presley. But Berry Gordy’s quest definitely added a layer of irony to the process.

Not that Gordy fared any better than the majority of his contemporaries. We can be fairly certain that the assets that drew Gordy to Chris Clark were not vocal.

Nonetheless, Gordy positioned Clark to be Motown – and America’s – answer to Dusty Springfield. He propped her up with songs by Holland-Dozier-Holland and even wrote and produced several numbers himself. Gordy’s favoritism didn’t go over so well at Hitsville. Other artists resented that Gordy spent so much time trying to make a star out of someone who refused to wear shoes, didn’t dress sharply and ate too much.

The public didn’t find much to like, either. Clark’s releases refused to dent the charts. “Love’s Gone Bad,” a HDH composition, was her greatest success, and somehow was enough to earn her the right to cut a full album the next year. 1967’s “Soul Sounds” dropped without a trace. So few copies were pressed that 40 years later it is a rare Motown collectible.

Despite all this, Clark managed to hang around Motown for quite a while. She co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay to “Lady Sings the Blues,” Motown’s 1972 foray into film. That film, of course, starred Gordy’s ultimate protégée, Diana Ross.

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By Joel Francis
The Examiner

The King of Rock and Roll is alive and well, according to local psychiatrist Don Hinton.

Hinton, who works at Independence Regional Health Center, says he has been treating Elvis Presley for the past five years.

“What I’ve seen him mostly for is chronic pain,” said Hinton, who says he travels ‘somewhere in the South’ to treat Elvis. “He has severe arthritis, but I’ve also been there as a friend.”

Hinton is earnest but recognizes there will be skeptics and critics.

“There are people who wouldn’t accept it no matter what I would say or do unless he were here eye-to-eye, and then they would want a blood test or DNA test,” Hinton said.

“I’m a young doctor. This is my family, my career. I would not be doing this if it weren’t the truth.”

Becoming Elvis’ physician is no easy task. Hinton was a member of group of people who knew of Elvis’ existence for more than five years before he was finally able to speak to the King over the telephone.

“By the time I was in his presence it had been proven to me beyond the shadow of a doubt,” Hinton said. “I was allowed to meet him because I was a physician and trusted. Friends had known me for 10 years.”

Hinton said he and Elvis became such good friends that the King asked him to help with his book, “The Truth About Elvis Aron Presley, In His Own Words.”

“When I first started there was no talk of a book, and I had to promise not to tell a soul,” Hinton said. “In early ’98 he started talking about wanting to do a book.”

Shrewd Elvis fans may recognize that Elvis’ middle name is spelled “Aaron” on his gravestone at Graceland. However, in a letter on the book’s official Web site, http://www.thetruthaboutelvisjesse.com, Elvis himself explains that “I was the one who allowed the ‘A’ on my stone. … The extra ‘A’ was the first letter of the word ‘alive.’ ”

According to the book, Elvis staged his death in 1977 and assumed the identity of his twin brother Jesse who was born dead.

“This plan began back in 1976 and it was down to the last detail,” Hinton said. “In his mind what happened in 1977 was not a lie because it was necessary.”

Elvis, who became famous for songs like “Love Me Tender” and “Hound Dog,” and movies like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Viva Las Vegas,” died on Aug. 16, 1977, from an drug overdose. But now, Hinton says, Jesse, nee Elvis, is ready to reclaim the limelight.

“There is part of him that wants his fans to know the truth,” Hinton said. “He has to start talking about his life as Jesse and letting the fans know.”

And the book is just the beginning.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s coming,” Hinton said. “Beginning next month after his birthday there will be a TV special where celebrities who are his friends who know this is true will come forward. All of this will roll into the 25th anniversary in August.”

But Hinton is certainly not alone. Also among the inner circle of Elvis confidants is Linda Johnson, a neighbor and former co-worker of Hinton’s.

“My uncle was at one time his (Elvis’) dentist,” Johnson said. “That got me in through my relationship and honesty, just like Don. Really Don and I are the only ones in the same state.”

The Elvis book was not released by a major publishing house, Johnson said, because the King wanted to keep his book affordable for fans.

“We shopped around,” Johnson said. “We did our work.”

Larger publishers wouldn’t have accepted the work unless they saw the author typing it.

“He didn’t want to make it sensational or trashy,” Johnson said. “It wanted it to be inexpensive for fans. Most big publishers wanted him sitting in front of them writing.”

Today, Hinton and Johnson said, Elvis is a changed man.

“He’s a very spiritual man. I wouldn’t say he’s a monk, but it’s a completely different world for him,” Hinton said. “He’s turned off by money and show business.”

One thing important to Elvis, er Jesse, these days is privacy.

“He’s more protected than the president but still cannot trust people around him,” Hinton said. “This whole thing was his wish. If he didn’t want it to come out, I would have taken it to my grave.”

Hinton even kept it a secret from his wife, Heather, when they were dating.

“The phone would ring and he would just go into another room and shut the door and come out later,” Heather Hinton said. “He finally told me so I wouldn’t be frustrated or upset.”

Heather Hinton admitted she was skeptical at first.

“When he started explaining what was going on and when I saw things I believed,” Heather Hinton said. “He (Don Hinton) showed me pictures and different things that had been sent to him.”

Color Heather Hinton among the believers.

“I just went with whatever he said as long as it didn’t hurt the family,” Heather Hinton said. “I just thought he wouldn’t do something unless he was pretty sure.”

Don Hinton broke the news to his co-workers shortly before the book came out. He said the news hasn’t hurt his practice. Hinton’s co-workers at Independence Regional Health Center declined to be interviewed.

“It’s affected my practice just because of all the stress,” Don Hinton said. “I hear from people all over the world and 98 or 99 percent of it is positive.”

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(Above: Bill Shapiro appeared on television in Kansas City in 2008 to celebrate 30 years of his radio show, “Cypress Avenue.”)

By Joel Francis
The Examiner

Late at night, the house is silent.

Everyone is asleep, or so it seems. In a bedroom, a dim light shines through the blankets peaked around a small figure sitting up under the covers. The sound of tinny music can barely be heard.

The boy beneath the sheets is still, but his heart is racing. His hands tremble as he fine-tunes the radio under the covers with him. He thought it was lost forever, but he has found it: the jazz radio station carrying the songs of Dave Brubeck and Shorty Rogers. It was only late at night he could pick up the phantom AM signals from stations in exotic places like New Orleans. Forget sleep, he had found something far more important.

Fast-forward 50 years.

Today, the city – Kansas City – is alive. Cars zoom past on the interstate, clearly visible from the law office’s window on the 20th floor near Crown Center. Visitors scurry in and out of the renovated Union Station.

A train blows by in the distance. The stress of daily life is lost in this picturesque, birds-eye view.

The scene is quite different, but the boy, now 62 years old, has not changed. The passion for discovering new music still burns within.

Today Bill Shapiro doesn’t hid his love of music; on the contrary, he broadcasts it. Shapiro has hosted the weekly radio show “Cypress Avenue” for more than 20 years on KUCR 89.3 FM, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, National Public Radio affiliate.

Taking the show’s title from a song on Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” album, “Cypress Avenue” has become one of KCUR’s highest-rated local shows.

Shapiro has found freedom on the airwaves. Unrestricted by playlists generated by demographic studies and corporate interests, Shapiro plays the music that excites him in hopes of engaging his audience.

“He has a lot more information and insight into groups that commercial radio doesn’t know about,” says Robert Moore, KCUR and “Cypress Avenue” producer and music director. “A show like his would never happen on commercial radio because they don’t break down artists. They just play one format.”

While commercial radio serves a bevy of Bachman-Turner Overdrive and saccharine teen pop, Shapiro slips his sophisticated audience the Velvet Underground, Stevie Wonder and Uncle Tupelo, all linked by a common theme for a given show.

PrinceWhen Beck’s “Midnite Vultures” was released in 1999, no Kansas City radio stations would pick it up, despite heavy play from MTV and VH1. “Cypress Avenue” not only spotlighted the album, but buttressed it with Prince’s “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic,” forming a fitting tribute to both.

Shapiro sprinkles his shows with information from box sets, liner notes and magazine interviews, but for the most part he lets the music do the talking.

His inspiration may come from a television special or an album passed onto him by a friend.

More often than not, Corky Carrol, co-owner of Village Records in Overland Park, Kan., points Shapiro to a quality release. The two usually talk once a week about scheduled new releases.

“It’s strange to think that this is the only place to hear Elvis Costello or Nick Drake on the radio,” Carrol says. “You know at least for two hours you are going to get a solid effort, not a couple of good songs then Celine Dion.”

Says Moore, “He turns the public on to new groups they won’t hear anywhere else. Unfortunately, it won’t have any impact on commercial radio because it is run by corporations. It’s expected that this is what non-commercial radio does.”

“Cypress Avenue” may be popular, but Shapiro has yet to reach the notoriety of Murray the K. Sure, he gets calls at the office from fans and fan mail isn’t unexpected, but for the most part Shapiro is anonymous. That’s fine by him.

“Other than family I don’t think I could tell you a specific person who might claim to be my biggest fan or a longtime listener,” Shapiro says.

Carrol has supplied Shapiro with music for more than 25 years and is a regular “Cypress Avenue” listener. Carrol says he has bought “thousands and thousands” of albums for Shapiro.

“It’s hard to get one past him, but there are a few records he’s missed,” Carrol says. “His purchases are all over the board. I think the only thing I haven’t sold him is a classical record.”

A hit all over the country

The diverse playlists on “Cypress Avenue” have made the show successful not only in Kansas City, but all over the country. During much of the 1980s, “Cypress Avenue” was distributed on NPR’s satellite uplink system.

“In those days you could buy an hour of stereo time for $40,” Shapiro says. “I thought it was worth a shot and was willing to invest a couple thousand dollars.”

Several stations picked up “Cypress Avenue” and it became a hit in Minneapolis and a dozen other smaller markets, but when satellite costs rose, Shapiro pulled his show.

“I knew it wasn’t going to grow because it didn’t fit the NPR format,” Shapiro says. “People think public radio should be country and jazz or folk for the adventurous.”

But Shapiro wasn’t content with confining the show to his hometown. He decided to give the satellite one more try, this time with a national sponsor. “Cypress Avenue” proved to be popular, running in more than 40 markets, including Detroit, San Francisco and Jacksonville, Fla. Unable to find a sponsor, expenses were mounting and Shapiro was faced with a decision.

“I decided I could either earn a living as an attorney, or I could get in my car and drive across the country and build ‘Cypress Avenue’ into a radio show,” Shapiro says.

For the second time, “Cypress Avenue” was pulled from the uplink

“We just weren’t penetrating the major markets,” Shapiro says. “Today radio is a secondary medium. People don’t care about shows, they care about stations and that’s why radio is as homogenous as it is. Advertisers just want a demographic to sell their product to. I don’t fit that mold. I knew I’d never get the audience I wanted.”

Compromising the show to build a bigger audience would be counteractive to everything Shapiro was trying to do – share the music he loves with his friends. And if his only contact with these friends is through the radio, so be it.

“A lot of people use the TV as a companion. My stereo is my companion,” Shaprio says. “I lawasy have 30 to 50 unopened CDs at home. They come to me faster than I can listen to them. There is always part of my head saying, ‘Is this something you want to take further and put on the radio?’”

When Shapiro listens to music at home, he makes sure it gets the audio treatment it deserves. At age 12, Shapiro built his own Hi-Fi system from a Heath kit. That system has been upgraded and replaced many times since.

“I’m a sound freak,” Shapiro says. “I have more money tied up in sound equipment than most people have in a home. I wasn’t to hear it as well as I can hear it. I buy all the gold CDs and audiophile stuff.

“To me, music is as important as oxygen and food,” Shapiro continues. “When I’m home, I have music on 24 hours a day. In the car, music is on the whole time.”

Hooked by a phonograph

Shapiro got hooked on music in 1942 when an uncle gave him a phonograph player for his fifth birthday. A family friend in the jukebox business kept Shapiro supplied with records once they were too scratched for commercial play. At age 12, he discovered Brubeck, Paul Desmond and West Coast jazz.

Shapiro tried music lessons – he tackled the piano, vibraphone and banjo – but his musical aptitude was mental, not physical. He spent his time amassing records and building playback systems.

“Whatever money I made went into getting more records and improving what I had,” Shapiro says.

Shapiro migrated across Missouri and graduated pre-med from Washington University in St. Louis in 1958 with the intent of becoming a doctor.

Still an avid jazz fan, Shapiro would often get together with friends and playelvis precords. Then he saw Elvis Presley’s first appearance on the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey show. Shapiro was hooked on rock and roll and spreading the gospel of Elvis.

“I didn’t know who or what it was, but it had the same impact on me as hearing JFK was shot,” Shapiro says. “I can still visualize that room and the TV set and here we are 50 years later.”

To a generation of buzz-cut, starched-collar squares, Elvis represented the rebellious, darker side of 1950s adolescence.

“Presley was a lightning rod from my generation, a button-down generation,” Shapiro says. “There was a whole side of our lives – smoking cigarettes, sipping beers, getting lad – that was never talked about, and here it was in our living room. I immediately became a hard-core rock and roll fan.”

By the time Shapiro graduated, he had abandoned the idea of being a doctor. He headed north to the University of Michigan and enrolled in law school. With his law degree in hand in 1961, Shapiro decided he wanted to be a tax attorney. He heard that New York University had a graduate tax law program, so he went to the Big Apple. One show on Manhattan Public Radio planted the germ that would become “Cypress Avenue.”

“It was a thematic program,” Shapiro says. “They’d take someone like big-band arranger Fletcher Henderson and play arrangements done by different bands. They might play a combo version next to a big band version. I listened to that show religiously. In later years, I got thinking that there was so much richness and social impact in pop music as in jazz and I could do the same thing.”

Shapiro had finally found his calling, but after three universities and seven years of higher education, a career shift was not going to happen.

“By this time my family and I had spent a lot on higher education,” Shapiro says. “If I’d know then what I knew no, I would have been in the music business. It just wasn’t in the cards.”

The jump from disc jockey to tax law may seem extreme, but Shapiro says his work is extremely satisfying.

“Tax law is not what most people think it is,” Shapiro says. “It is the most creative part of the law, because what we do is planning. You might want to buy your partner out. If you do it one way, Uncle Sam takes a hunk. If you do it differently, you save money.”

Shapiro left New York in 1962 and returned to Kansas City to work and start a family. As his family grew and Shapiro flourished professionally, he became involved with broadcasting, but it was television that proved to be Shapiro’s stepping-stone to radio.

Deeply involved with public television’s early on-air auctions and fund-rasiers, Shapiro’s good deeds did not go unnoticed. A high school friend working at KCUR called Shapiro and asked if she could take him to lunch and discuss fund-raising methods. At the end of the meal, she asked if there was anything she could do for him. Shapiro asked for an audition to do a public radio rock show.

The dream was starting to materialize. Shapiro arrived at the studio with a stack of records for the show and hoped that the manager liked it.

“My first show was called ‘Ballads by Rockers.’ It was all ballad material done by people thought of as screamers,” Shapiro says. “He (the manager) says, if you can do that every week, you’re on.”

Sonic spelunking

As Cypress Avenue entered its second decade on the air, Shapiro realized new music and artists – particularly rap and alternative – were not striking the same chord with him.

“I’ve known for a long time I’m the generation these people want to rebel against,” Shapiro says. “I respect the fact that the music says this to the previous generation,” he says, emphatically holding up his middle finger. “There is a need to shake up the status quo.”

Shapiro doesn’t mind the envelope pushing done by newer artists, he just doesn’t get it musically. The Talking Heads and Beck are about as modern asbrubeck Shapiro gets with “Cypress Avenue.”

But Shapiro’s show doesn’t need Moby and Soundgarden to be effective. “Cypress Avenue” is a discovery process – for both Shapiro and for listeners – of influential artists and the impact they’ve had on music.

By showing listeners the roots of music, Shapiro leaves the listener naturally curious of the modern amplification and integration of this process.

“Cypress Avenue” isn’t a forum for Shapiro to amaze everyone with his knowledge. It’s a platform for him to share his love of music and enlighten listeners who don’t fit commercial radio demographics.

Jackie Nixon, NPR director of strategic planning and audience research, says that shows like “Cypress Avenue” are what NPR is all about.

“We treat our listeners with respect and intelligence and try to produce programming that makes people think as well as entertain,” Nixon says.

For Shapiro, those sleepless nights in the early 1940s were a discovery process.

“It was like going into a cave with a flashlight and all of a sudden – bang, something is shining back at you,” he says.

Shapiro has not forgotten that feeling and tries to instill the same feeling of excitement in his listeners.

“I think I broaden the awareness of the intelligence and importance of popular music,” Shapiro says. “I lift it out of the aural wallpaper and let people know it can be a powerful element. That it shapes opinions and tells a lot about where we are and where we are going.”

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