For a while now, Joe Spake has been going through a considerable cache of photographs he took in the mid 1970s and posting them on Facebook.
And they are an interesting look at a city in the making – not that Memphis wasn’t in the act of becoming before and after these pictures were taken. Hopefully, Memphis will never be completed.
Most of you know Joe these days as a Realtor.
But some of his photos from 1974 are from a different part of his life when he was part of a community radio station at what was then Southwestern at Memphis and is now Rhodes College.
The radio station was WLYX FM 89. And it was run 24/7 by volunteers who did four hour air shifts.
When Joe began posting these pictures, I was more than a little interested since I too was at the radio station for the first seven years of my 22 years doing radio news. These pictures are about a year before I showed up at the top of the gymnasium at Southwestern where the radio station was located and accessible only by climbing a lot of stairs. That was after someone at the top threw down a set of keys so you could unlock one of the front doors to the gym to come up after hitting a buzzer by the door to alert the person upstairs.
Over that many years, some memories begin to fade.
Such is the case with a picture that has stumped many of us who were there – or in my case, just about there. It’s become a real source of fascination. It shows someone being interviewed, probably a musician with a gig and a record deal. But none of us can place the face.
UPDATE: Go to the comments below to see Joe’s link to the mystery photo and a link to his other photos. In the mystery photo, we know who the guys to the left and center are — Dave Weil and Gil Rossner, who also worked at WLYX. It’s the figure to the right that is the mystery.
Some think there is a resemblance to a young Steven Tyler. Others think it is someone from Mott the Hoople. And still others think it is someone who had a record deal and put out a record but may have never been heard from again after a brief splash of touring.
All three are possible. Because the radio station was non-commercial it didn’t have the playlist that is still the core of organization at any commercial radio station that plays music. And we had a hellacious record collection that took up two rooms and covered every kind of jazz, bluegrass, rock, rock and roll, fusion, reggae and classical music you could think of. We had the old stuff and the new stuff.
One of the few rules was don’t play the hits that everybody else was playing.
As a result, there were a lot of up and coming musicians who came through the doors as they made their way across the country.
Joe has another picture in his collection of Frank Zappa doing a newscast.
John Prine bummed a dime off me for a grape soda a few weeks before he turned up on Saturday Night Live.
Supertramp had the run of the place before they played the old Auditorium. The show got moved to the smallest hall in the Auditorium and the opener, Crack The Sky, was the better known of the two acts.
Black Sabbath had an eventful trip up the stairs. All four band members, including Ozzy Osbourne, showed up on time and ready to talk except the drummer, Bill Ward, who fell down the stairs on his way up. For a few very anxious seconds in which his hosts wondered if they had killed the drummer for Black Sabbath, Ward didn’t move but then dusted himself off and caught up with the rest.
Shortly after catching the movie Slaughterhouse Five on the late show on television, I was amazed one day to see the daughter from the movie being interviewed. Holly Near, the actress, was the kind of singer-songwriter who was right up the radio station’s very broad and eclectic alley in those pre-MTV days.
One late night while looking in the older records I came across the Big Star album and wondered why I had never heard of them. The band had done what turned out to be its final gig in our studios maybe a few months before I got there. The bootleg is still floating around on the Internet.
There are lots more stories that should and shouldn’t be told. Some fall into both categories.
It’s funny how microphones, obsolete equipment and sound tiles can translate into blurry memories that may or may not be the way it was, but it’s the way you remember it even if you don’t remember all of the faces.