Thursday, May 06, 2010

Red Hot and Blue

There have been a few Deejays to use the on air name "Daddy-O." Dewey Phillips may well have been the greatest. Dewey Phillips was the host of Red, Hot & Blue on 560 WHBQ-AM in Memphis. And in connection to that program he is reputed to have been the first DJ to play Elvis Presley. In July 1954, he spun Presley's first single: "That's All Right/Blue Moon Of Kentucky." Sam Phillips hand-delivered him an acetate to spin. But Dewey wasn't all about Elvis. Sun records didn't even exist until 1952. Dewey made Elvis, not the other way around. Red, Hot & Blue debuted October 10th 1949.

1070 WDIA-AM was already playing Rhythm & Blues in 1947 but it was black owned. Dewey was white and he was playing Rhythm & Blues singles ostensibly for a largely black audience. While WHBQ was only playing R&B at night, Dewey's show managed to create a biracial following even in 1949. He was born May 13,1926 which made him only 22 when his show debuted. He was playing rock n' roll 2 years before Alan Freed. And Dewey's style was high-speed, almost frantic, his humor a little wacky and even kind of crazy. He mispronounced words on purpose as a sort of rhyming slang. What later we might have called jive-talk. He didn't just sing along, he screamed over the broadcast sometimes like a madman. More.
His Radio show was so big, it also became a TV show which was simulcast live on AM. And on TV he got even crazier. His co-host was as mute as Harpo Marx but wore a gorilla mask. In 1950 he started a record label with Sam Phillips. The first record was "Boogie in the Park" by Joe Hill Louis. But the growing problem was that Dewey actually was kind of crazy. The constant drinking didn't help. Then it turned out that the high-speed came from actual speed. He was popping amphetamines. He was hospitalized twice for drunkenly crashing his car. He got strung out, behaving erratically even for him. In his defense.. so was Johnny Cash at the time. He was fired in 1959 supposedly for shooting up morphine and talking about it on air. He was still the #1 DJ in Memphis at the time.

Phillips died of heart failure at age 42 in 1968.