Dick Clark had a hand in early Arena concerts

Dick Clark never spent much time in Pittsburgh, but the legendary "American Bandstand" host, who died Wednesday at 82, certainly make an impact here.

And he took a little from Pittsburgh as well.

"He was a powerhouse in the business, with his TV show," says longtime Pittsburgh promoter Pat DiCesare. "He could break so many acts. A lot of people owe their career to Dick Clark. He could put you on a TV show and the next day you were a hit."

On the popular music show "American Bandstand," the dashing Mr. Clark played host to such Pittsburgh artists as The Skyliners and The Jaggerz.

The Skyliners went on "Bandstand" two years after it went national, on Feb. 13, 1959, to perform the breakout ballad "Since I Don't Have You."

"The record had already started out," says the Skyliners' Jimmy Beaumont. "Alan Freed had it No. 1 in New York, and it was breaking big on the black charts. And then when Dick had us on the afternoon show, it really kicked it nationally."

The Jaggerz were invited to "Bandstand" in March 1970 to perform the No. 2 hit "The Rapper."

"On our plane trip out to Hollywood," recalls Jimmie Ross of The Jaggerz, "the flight attendants brought out a cake with gold icing shaped like a record. I remember a lot of people on the plane clapping when they found out that we were The Jaggerz and we were going out to do 'American Bandstand.' When we got to the studio, I remember the greenroom backstage was set up like a living room where we sat down with Dick Clark. He talked to Joe Rock (our manager) and us about what we were up to and our second album that 'The Rapper' was on. He was very nice and seemed really interested in what we were doing. I couldn't believe I was sitting there with Dick Clark after watching his show on TV after school."

Mr. Clark had some familiarity with Pittsburgh and its music scene. According to his autobiography, "Rock, Roll & Remember," he took a field trip to Pittsburgh around 1954. His Philadelphia radio station WFIL sent him here to study the style of popular WCAE disc jockey, who, like Porky Chedwick, was playing "race" records (or records by black artists), which was rare for mainstream stations.

"They sent me to Pittsburgh to sit in a hotel room to listen to a DJ named Jay Michael," Clark wrote. "For three days, I sat there listening to Jay Michael play the hits." He went back to Philly telling the station that he can imitate Jay Michael, but complaining that they "won't let me play the music he's playing."

Mr. Clark's radio show became a hit, leading to ABC picking up "American Bandstand" for television. He used that fame to launch his packaged concert tours known as the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars, which Pittsburgh got about three times a year. One of the early versions had the Skyliners on a national tour with Paul Anka, Lloyd Price, Annette Funicello and Duane Eddy that stopped at the Syria Mosque in September 1959.

"They were bus tours," Mr. Beaumont says. "Sometimes you'd have to sleep on the bus, because the stops were so far apart."

At the time, Mr. DiCesare was learning the concert promotion business under his mentor, Tim Tormey, who was the leading promoter in Pittsburgh.

"Dick was putting out the Caravan of Stars tours," he says. "Tim was going into competition. He was going to do the same thing and put out the Shower of Stars."

The two promoters got into a bidding war over a 1965 tour featuring Gene Pitney, which Mr. Tormey won, according to Mr. DiCesare, because he agreed to call it the "Gene Pitney Shower of Stars." Mr. Clark never would have given up his name on the title, Mr. DiCesare says.

Mr. Clark acknowledged the success of Mr. Tormey by hiring him at Dick Clark Productions on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, leaving Mr. DiCesare here as the premier concert promoter. Clark Productions continued to book Caravan shows here through the '60s.

"One time he had a bus tour and needed a tour manager," Mr. DiCesare says, "so I went on the bus as the tour manager. I think that was Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield, and some other acts." At one point during the tour, a conflict arose between two of the acts, and gunshots were fired, but that's a whole other story.

The Caravan shows, which did not actually feature Mr. Clark as host, began to fade toward the end of the '60s.

"He liked the singles acts, like the Sonny and Chers, the Tom Jones, but the business gave way to self-contained groups and, for some reason, he couldn't adapt to that type of change," Mr. DiCesare says of Mr. Clark. "When it became the Byrds and Faces and Yardbirds, you couldn't do 10 other acts because they wanted a half hour, 45 minutes and the changeover was too long. You had acts that could sell out one night on their own, like Three Dog Night. That's when Dick fell out of power."

At least in the concert industry -- although he kept his hand in it, focusing on acts like the Osmond Brothers and Jackson 5.

While Mr. DiCesare never met Mr. Clark face to face in Pittsburgh, he recalls meetings with him at a popular steakhouse in New York. "He was clean cut, a gentleman and a nice person."

music - tvradio

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg; Blog: www.post-gazette.com/popnoise. First Published April 18, 2012 9:15 PM


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