George Carlin Dug Rhythm and Blues

By Steve Propes

On Jan. 11, 2024, the Vice website reviewed the fake George Carlin artificial intelligence (AI) video, “I’m Glad I’m Dead” in the article, “The George Carlin AI Standup Is Worse Than You Can Imagine” by Matthew Gault.

The video shows the dark side of AI, and unlike Carlin’s real work, it’s simply not funny. The producers then backtracked, claiming it was not AI, but his estate filed suit, calling it “a casual theft of a great American artist’s work.”

I never expected to meet George Carlin, who I first saw on the Ed Sullivan Show. Finding his act revealed a unique truth about our times, I never bothered to spend much time with his most famous “Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV,” a bit I was able to share with him many years afterward.

In late 1981, I took a weekend shift as one of the first DJs on the newly jazz-formatted KLON, playing rhythm and blues (R&B). Turns out, George Carlin was a major fan of the early 50s R&B he heard as a teen in “Irish Harlem” on WHOM radio in the early 1950s.

What I played must have reminded him of those early Harlem days, as not only did he subscribe to my show and the station, but he sent me about a half-dozen cassette tapes of his favorite songs and appeared as a special guest on my show on Aug. 7, 1988. I’m positive he wouldn’t have appeared if it had been a standard interview. He knew I had an interest in discussing his favorite recordings.

During the interview, we talked about cover records by artists like Pat Boone and Perry Como, responsible for watering down R&B originals. We began with a story about how he decided he wanted to be in show business.

At age 15 or 16, Carlin recalled, “There was a radio station in a nightclub, a very famous nightclub called the Baby Grand Café on 125th Street near 8th Avenue. I would go over there at night, the two jocks, one was white, one was black, Willie Bryant was an old bandleader, he was called the mayor of Harlem, Ray Carroll was the white disc jockey, they were called Willie and Ray on WHOM at night.

“I would go over there at night and I would tap on the window to get their attention and would hold up a sign that would say, ‘play “Lucille” by the Drifters for George, wait 15 minutes until I get home’ and they’d nod yes. I’d rush home, turn on WHOM wait about two tunes, and here it would come on, I was a star-struck kid anyway.

“I wanted to be on the stage, in the movies, on the radio, anything they’d let me do. Eventually I was going to do it, [thrilled] to hear my name on the radio, and hear this fabulous song by Clyde McPhatter.

“I personally became a snob about the whole thing when I became a DJ in Shreveport, Louisiana and Fort Worth, Texas where I had my two good top 40 jobs,” said Carlin. “I would comment on-the-air about this stuff that was happening, like when ‘Little Darlin’’ came out by the Diamonds. I played the Gladiolas. I insisted in my radio station, ‘I’m not playing that Diamonds thing.’ I would tell the audience, ‘this is not real music, this is popular music, this is manufactured, it’s artificial. The Gladiolas, this is where it’s happening.’

“I did the same thing later with the Clovers, when ‘Love Potion #9’ came out. ‘This is not the real Clovers. I’ve got some things I’d like to play.’ Because I was on from 7 to midnight, I could play a few extra things, so I’d play “One Mint Julep” or “Good Lovin,” a couple of these things, try to educate these people.” From that experience, Carlin created “Wonderful Radio WINO.”

“We still had some personality in radio, even though we played top 40 and it was a formula station, you could be yourself. I was 19. I was playing the same records I was dancing to at night. I would make dedications. I would make out a lot based on being able to mention girl’s names on the radio. I’d say, ‘This one is to Lulu, Delores and Bobbette…”

After the show, we briefly talked off-the-air. Though a rather distant conversationalist, Carlin mentioned that he and Jack Burns were morning jocks on KDAY for about three months in 1960.

On May 10, 1960, the Hollywood Reporter ran an item about a fire during the Wright Brothers show at 1549 N, Cahuenga Blvd. Turns out for reasons unknown, the pair used the Wright Brothers name while on KDAY.

In October 1996, Carlin agreed to appear on my one-hour record -spinning Steve Propes House Party on Charter Cable channel 3. Shortly after that appearance, his wife died and within a year, he had moved and changed his phone number; I lost touch. George Carlin passed away on June 22, 2008, in Santa Monica.

But for those two decades, 1980s and 1990s, it was one show about every eight years, rain or shine.

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