Big John… and Two JDs

As a boy I did not know what made some records sound better than others.  Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” sounded great to me.  I liked the song, too. I was always thrilled to hear it booming out of AM radio when it first hit the charts.  I still remember where I was on two occasions that it was played. The days of AM Top 40 radio playing songs by Jimmy Dean were numbered.  The British invasion and the development of stereo would see to that.  The record still sounds great.

Before my journey in music – Before acting in Hollywood – My show business days began in radio. I was a kid, but that’s how I got to California.

When I arrived as a disc jockey and music director at KROY in the autumn of ’71, the Sacramento billboards touted Jimmy Dean shows in the Tahoe casinos.  Every time I’d drive by those signs I could hear “Big John… Big Bad Johnnnn” replaying in my mind.

On KROY one day, I was told that Jimmy Dean would be coming by the station to promote his (then new) Jimmy Dean Sausage. My job was to let him “sit in” on my show.  Interview him. Of course there was no planning for this.  We were going to wing it.  I wondered what we would do beyond playing “Big Bad John.”  How would he get along with a young kid interviewer? How soon would Norton, the salesman, ask Dwight, the G.M., to ship me back to Texas?

Jimmy was gracious. Very easy to meet.  After saying hello “on the air” and visiting for a minute, I plowed ahead with the show and records from the A stack or the B stack, etc. in the prescribed order.  When the songs were over I resumed talking to my “in studio guest” (sausage, Big Bad John, music) and then played whatever commercials were on the log.  Of course we talked off the air when the songs or commercials  were playing.  This went on for about an hour.  As professional as he was on the air, he was equally genial off the air.

It helped that we were both from Texas. It gave us ways to connect. We used those connections to play up a camaraderie and orneriness between us.  We had no routine, but I could tell he liked the repartee.  He was good with improvising. For those several minutes on KROY it was as if we’d known each other for years.  (I told you he was a pro.  I just worked to keep up and feed the momentum.)

Toward the end of our visit, I started playing STORY IN YOUR EYES by the Moody Blues underneath our conversation — using the record bed as a pad. I wasn’t sure how we’d get out of this talk before the record intro ended and the song began. I had about 24 secs of intro before the track shifts into gear.

Jimmy starts yammering about how I’m no hotshot. How I should go back to Texas. He gins up a Don Rickles put down humor on me to let me know that I’m not even really all that good a Texan…. and… I let him run on this way a few more seconds. Then, I said, “Oh yeah? Well your face looks like your neck threw up!”  Jimmy lit up with complete surprise, admiration, and glee. He began to laugh this deep throaty laugh that perfectly timed with the musical crescendo that every DJ hopes to reach in his talk up.  The Moody Blues were off to the races and I had just had a wonderful visit with Jimmy Dean.

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