Rapping With Russ
by Chris Morton
Being a rabid XYZ/Keener/CKLW radio listener since '61 after seeing "House On the Haunted Hill" at the ripe age of eight, sometime during '67 I made the switch from AM to the new "underground radio" format popping up on the FM dial. At that time WABX was the forerunner, broadcasting an experimental show—"The Troubadour"—once a week or so prior to going fulltime with the format. Soon ABX was joined by WKNR-FM and, later, WRIF.
That same year I joined a busload of Cranbrook students to go to a Sunday afternoon, underage concert at the Grande Ballroom, "Uncle Russ" Gibb's answer to the Fillmore (we were treated to an initial Detroit appearance by Cream). Enthralled by the euphoric Grande scene, I waltzed into Russ' office and, introducing myself, soon landed an assignment to produce—with a bit of guidance from Grande-regular Carl Lundgren—a Grande handbill promoting an upcoming B.B. King concert. (My card, being traded at $250 in 2005, has since shown up as part of a B.B. King exhibit at Cleveland's Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame.)
Such was my interest in rock music that I spent many evenings and weekends talking to the underground jocks—the late Dave Dixon, KNR manager John Small, and Russ Gibb in particular—on the telephone. It was in talking to Russ about having seen an unknown English avant-garde group, Soft Machine, upstage Jimi Hendrix at Masonic Temple that he invited me down to KNR's Dearborn studio on Michigan Avenue to pick up an advance tape of that group's forthcoming first LP. Hitchhiking down there the following Saturday, that tape was an instant hit in the Cranbrook's language lab come Monday.
Being an ever-faithful listener of Gibb's show, I was captivated one weekend when he interviewed a fellow on-air about multiple clues, taken from many Beatles' LPs, leading to the possibility that Paul McCartney had been killed and replaced by a look-alike. Though I don't specifically remember what tips I contributed, I was very excited to be able to participate in Russ' show and offer additional "clues," now that pandora's box had been opened.
Read the rest of this story, and many others, at Floydian Slips.