Wednesday, December 29, 2010

DJ George Klein

When people interview George Klein, it's usually about Elvis, and not about George Klein. When he's mentioned in print it's usually in the middle of a reference to Elvis too. It's really a damn shame. Writer Bill E. Burke called him "America's Oldest Teenager."  Burke meant that DJ GK, (as he also called him) was the real rock n' roll deal compared to Dick Clark. There's also a George Klein at WEMU, a fine jazz man but that's a Klein of a different color. Writer Mitch McCracken also noted Klein's position squarely in Elvis's shadow. More Here. In the Memphis Examiner he wrote:
"George Klein ... was one of the first DJ’s in Memphis to play rock and roll on the radio, before Elvis. That was just the beginning of what George would do for Memphis music wise He became one of the most famous disc jockeys in Memphis history. He had the RKO “Boss” jock sound down when he was at WHBQ. You can’t mention those call letters without thinking of George Klein or GK as Elvis called him."
Yes, Klein  happened to be friends with Elvis since they were 14 years old. But Klein was big in Memphis radio, and Memphis was the epicenter of rock n roll at the time.  In short, Elvis Presley isn't the only big name in his career. Yes, in 1954 Klein was the second DJ in the country to play Elvis’s Sun Records debut “That’s All Right.” (Dewey Phillips, was the first)  When Klein was on KWEM he was the first DJ to host Johnny Cash live. At the time they were still just Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two.  They as yet had no drummer, and no record deal. A few months later Cash got signed to Sun Records and Klein obligingly played that record too.

He began at WHHM-AM doing high school football broadcasts. then he worked for Harvey Stegman at WHBQ-AM working on their baseball broadcasts for the Memphis Chicks. Klein became the WHBQ-AM gopher.  Dewey Phillips sent him out to pick up barbecue, and coffee, wrangle fans and answer the phone. Klein even came in early to clean up the studio after Dewey. Dewey was renowned for trashing the joint as he tossed records around the room. He frequently yanked 45s off the turntable and threw them toward the trash can.In his own words "I...made sure he didn't burn the station down." In the book Dewey and Elvis writer Louis Cantor called him a "baby sitter" and a "radio groupie."  
He finished college and he went over to KOSE-AM in Osceola, AR and came back to host a rock n roll show at KWAM-AM.   His afternoon show was so hot that he was soon poached by WMC-AM. Some sources say he quit, others say he was fired, but they all say he left to tour with Elvis in 1957.  But Elvis was drafted in 1958 stopping the tour bus indefinitely. Klein went back to radio and got a gig offered by Sam Phillips at 1220 WHEY-AM radio station. He was doign afternoons in the slot next to his old pal Dewey Phillips. He left Sam for a gig at WHBQ-AM in 1960.  He started pulling double duty on the TV side with show on WHBQ-TV Channel 13 called ".Talent Party.." It ran for 12 years and 500 episodes. It was like American Bandstand but better, it was more rock and more local. He later hosted the TV show Memphis Sounds which was produced at WYPL.

ate in life he did an easy listening show on the Sam Phillips-owned WLVS.  I thought at first this was the present WLVS 106.5 but that station only launched in 1999. It's actually what was once called 94-LVS.  Sam changed the call letters in 1979 to honor the then recently deceased Elvis himself. It was originally licensed in 1976 as 94.3 WGTG.  It flipped to Beautiful music as WEZI in 1983. In 1992 they shifted frequencies to 94.1. In 2008 they went classic hits changing calls to WKQK. the first song they played was Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll."  It's owned by Entercom, but so is WMC.

Klein wasn't immune to the fame and money available in the shadow of Elvis. Almost exactly a year ago he published his own personal account of life with Elvis “Elvis: My Best Man” ISBN-10: 0307452743.  I've gone out of my way not to read any of it out of solidarity for the fame George should have had.