Rock & Roll Heaven’s a Little Fuller Tonight: Part One

Let me tell you what kind of man Dick Clark was. Here in the Tampa Bay radio market, there are two mentally challenged twin sisters, probably in their late 50’s now. They loved radio, and they felt like they knew their personalities. Their big question was always, “What color are you wearing?” They called every station I worked for, and had an encyclopedic memory of my former coworkers. They were like Rain Man that way.

So they’d call every month or two, and I was always nice to them. “Green shirt, and no, I don’t know where Steve Michaels is working now.”

Dick Clark was their favorite. Whenever he was in town filming a special or whatever, the twins would ride the bus over to see him. Every year, Dick Clark sent the twins cards on their birthday and Christmas.

I met Dick Clark one year when he was in town to produce a star-studded gala TV special at Busch Gardens. He also had two weekly radio shows: Rock, Roll, & Remember, and Countdown America. The problem was, the chart info wasn’t released till Tuesday morning. So, Dick Clark had to find someplace to record his parts for the show. He contacted my station, since we were Oldies, and made an appointment for 8pm. He got there at 8:02pm. I let him into the building, and we went back to get the 26 page script off our fax. Then it was time to record.

We called his producers in California, and Dick read his parts with the phone up to his mouth, as I recorded it on two-track and DAT. Every now and then, he’d stumble. He just said “sorry,” and took it again.

Heaven forfend, there was some kind of problem with the script for one of the songs. People in California argued amongst themselves, and Dick Clark looked at me, smiled, and rolled his eyes. “Hey, I’m sorry if I’m keeping you from your family tonight.”

“Oh, no problem. It’s just me and the cat.”
“I love cats, but my wife’s allergic. What kind is he?”
“He’s a South Tampa street stray named Hannibal. He looks like a giant cotton ball.”
“Great name. We have three dogs. They’re a handful, but I love them.” Then back into the phone, “Okay, so you’re sure it’s right now?”

When we got to the end of the script, he ad-libbed my name into the credits: “Countdown America is produced by Joe Blow and Tom Sanchez.”

His car was waiting for him downstairs. He shook my hand, thanked me for the millionth time, and told me to apologize to Hannibal.

A few months later, we were doing a special in honor of Elvis’ birthday. My boss said, “Since you and Dick Clark are best friends, why don’t you call and get some bumpers?”

I called Dick Clark Productions, and asked if I could speak to Mr Clark. The receptionist took my name and put me on hold. Ten seconds later, “Hey, Tom. How’s Florida?” A little small-talk. His dogs were barking at a squirrel in the backyard. “They wouldn’t know what to do if they caught one. How’s Hannibal?” He did the liners for me.

A few months later, I called him again. More chatting about pets & stuff, and more liners. “I owe you one, Tom. Call anytime if I can help you.”

No, Dick. You gave me an experience I’ll never forget. You showed that nice guys really can still be nice, even when they’re bajillionaires. You put black artists on your show, when that was a rarity in “white” TV. You sent Christmas cards to these two twins whom you could have just blown off. You worked with me for three hours one night, and always remembered my cat’s name.

And damnedest of all, Dick, you looked even younger in person than you did on TV.

Hannibal will be in a club somewhere listening to Chet Baker. Give him scritches for me.

And Dick Clark?

Your life was smart and inventive, had a great beat, and millions could dance to it. I give you a 100.

Requiescat in Pace.


11 Responses to “Rock & Roll Heaven’s a Little Fuller Tonight: Part One”

  1. This is wonderful, Tom. I shared on FB and on my WP. I hope that’s ok. I want everyone to know Dick Clark and to read your excellent writing. Hugs!

    • Not a problem. Thanks, Lauri. Dick would have enjoyed riding Orion. πŸ˜‰

      • Orion just finished his lunch and says “Aroo-oo-arf-oo.” That’s the best translation I can come up with! He’s very talkative.
        I think it means that Dick can find Calli on a green lawn in heaven, soaking up the warm sunshine. She’ll be glad to keep Dick company while Orion is down here with us! πŸ™‚

        I emailed this post to a bunch of my friends and relatives, too.

  2. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I can remember watching Dick Clark on “American Bandstand” as a little girl. As I read your post, the show’s theme song began playing in my head. (Saxophones! Who uses saxes in rock music anymore?)

    It didn’t hit me when I first heard the news, but now I feel sad. The last time I saw Clark on the New Year’s Eve musical special, he looked really tired and drawn. I didn’t take note of it at the time: I thought he was just getting old, like the rest of us. But I thought he would live forever. Like the music he championed.

  3. That’s so cool, Tom. He always has impressed me as a nice guy, but this confirms it. Sounds like you were building a friendship with him, sorry that it was cut short. Can’t wait to read more about him. Thanks for sharing! (and ty, Lauri for posting for us BookFacers)

    • CARLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      You doing OK? I ditched my 8th (and FINAL) FB account a few months ago. Just couldn’t handle it…Reeses on the brain…LOL!

    • I don’t think he and I were becoming friends. I just think he had amazing memory, and genuinely liked people and treated them well. He was a good man. Glad Lauri directed you here. πŸ™‚

  4. What a great story–and wonderful to hear about a person sort of behind their public persona.

    Having grown up near Philadelphia, Dick Clark was a legend because of his time on WFIL and then American Bandstand.

  5. Ahhh….that’s so wonderful.
    Thank you for sharing this.

    btw…Tom? Is that you? From Vox?
    ::peers into the darkness::

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