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A toaster possessed by the devil, a man saved from drowning in an icy lake by his Howdy Doody dummy, and a woman who claims to have had sex with space aliens for several years. They are all part of a story on supermarket tabloids I did for the Today Show 28 years ago. Now in a column for Gawker, Neetzan Zimmerman calls the devil toaster the best interview in the history of TV. Here’s how she described the story.
“If you’ve been sitting around for the past 27 years waiting to witness the greatest moment in television history, I’ve got some bad news: You missed it.
In May 1984, The Today Show aired what can unarguably be described as the greatest televised interview ever: Legendary Weekly World News reporter and future Jerry Springer Show executive producer Richard Dominick‘s sit-down with a woman whose toaster was possessed by the Devil.
Suffice it to say, the year this segment didn’t win every journalism award is the year every journalism award became irrelevant.”
I wouldn’t go that far, calling it the best in the history of tv interviews, but it was very funny. I may have to dig out some of my other old tabloid pieces and post them as well, but in the meantime here’s the complete story talked about in Gawker with all 3 interviews, including the devil toaster in action.
Watching the Texas Tornados perform at Jazz Fest in New Orleans this year brought back good memories of the times I spent filming these guys and other influential Texas based musicians for stories on the Today Show. The original Tornados was made up of Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers, Freddy Fender, and Flaco Jimenez. Sahm and Meyers were the key members of the Sir Douglas Quintet in the 60’s that recorded such hits as “She’s About a Mover” and “Mendocino.” Based on the band’s name, many fans thought they were another British import band. Of course once anybody heard Dough talk, there was no doubt these guys were from Texas.
Freddy Fender had two big hits on his own, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” and “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and Flaco was a leading figure in Tex-Mex or Conjunto music. Freddy and Doug are now deceased but Doug’s son Shawn has joined the Tornados.
I don’t have a copy of the story I did with the Tornados, but I found a copy of story I did on Tex-Mex music when the Today Show was on location in San Antonio. In this piece I have some very rare footage of Flaco playing guitar with his father Santiago playing accordion in their front yard in San Antonio. Santiago, who is credited with creating the Conjunto sound talks about how he combined German Polka music with a little hot sauce to come up with the Conjunto style. I’m not sure of the exact date when I did this story in the early 80’s, but Santiago died in 1984.
The video ends with music from a young Joe King Carrasco, another Texas musician, who takes Tex-Mex to the next level with what he calls at the time Nuevo Wavo or Tex-Mex Rock & Roll. His “Party Weekend” is still a bit of a party classic.
Once again I wish I had all the outtakes from this shoot. There are moments that can never be captured again, not only with Flaco and his father, Santiago, but also the images of a very young Boyd Matson and Bryant Gumbel.
My how time flies. Fifty years ago this month The Rolling Stones started up and rock and roll was never the same. If Elvis and then the Beatles made your parents nervous, the Stones gave them nightmares and convinced them it was time to lock up the women and children. The Stones had an image of living on the edge and many of us from their generation wanted to join them. Their music was the vehicle to take us there.
After almost twenty-five years of making music and despite their influence on rock and roll, and number one records and sold out concerts the band had never won a Grammy. In 1986 the Grammys tried to makeup for that failure by giving them a Lifetime Achievement award. I went to London to interview the band about the honor for the Today Show. Mick jagger, Keith Richards, and Bill Wyman seemed to all have slightly different takes on whether or not it was in fact an honor.
Since this is the fiftieth anniversary of the band and there is some uncertainty as to whether or not they will ever tour again, I though it would be a good time to post this old Today Show story. In it there’s a small taste of how Mick and Keith don’t always see eye to eye. Their answers to my questions also show an honesty that not all celebrities are willing to reveal. I think that same attitude was present in their music, which helped make it so successful. It certainly made interviewing the guys a fun experience.
One of the best perks of working for the Today Show in the eighties was their willingness to let me do stories about almost anything that interested me. I didn’t have to ask, “Is this story the stuff of front page headline news?” I just had to bring them compelling stories that were factually correct and well crafted. I worked under the assumption that if it was interesting to me, then there must be other people who would be equally fascinated with the topic as well.
That philosophy is how I got the show to let me start a weekly series called, “On the Record.” News organizations for the most part in those days ignored stories about the music business unless it involved a rock star getting arrested or overdosing. We had a Hollywood segment on the show and a movie review segment, but no regular music coverage. Being of a generation that considered rock and roll a soundtrack for life, I thought by ignoring music stories we were failing to report on an area of interest to a big chunk of our audience.
The Today Show agreed to let me cover music, in addition to my other stories, and I used that platform to meet and film artists whose music appealed to me, whether or not they happened to be at the top of the charts. And that’s how in 1981 I ended up in Louisiana spending a few days with some of the pioneers of Cajun music.
Dennis McGee, Dewey Balfa, and Sady Courville, fiddle players and singers all had a big influence on 20th century Cajun music. I had heard some of their early recordings and decided it was a music genre whose story needed to be told and documented for a larger audience. I spend a few days hanging out with the guys and their family and friends, listening to music, hearing their life stories, and sharing some great meals. This is the Today Show piece that came from my time in Cajun country.
Motown Records was started by Barry Gordy to give black artists in the Detroit area a shot at making hit records, but what he ended up creating was a company that provided a soundtrack for life during much of the 60’s and 70’s. On the 20th anniversary of Motown, the company was headquartered in Los Angeles, their first million selling singer, Smokey Robinson, was still recording, but he was also a vice-president at Motown.
This video is a story I did for the Today Show looking back at Motown’s success on their 20th anniversary. At the end of the story after filming the Temptations in a rehearsal the guys were sitting around and sang a little song especially for the Today Show.
Since most people are thinking about that great American institution the Super Bowl today, I though before the game begins you could use a little break and enjoy a few moments of pleasure from another American institution, Motown Records.
Years ago music legend Johnny Otis told me about the day he discovered one of the great R & B singers, Etta James. She was 14 or 15 years old and had been singing in a little know girl’s group with two friends when she went to audition for Otis. He said she was so shy that she insisted on going into another room to sing for him, so that he wouldn’t be able to watch her and she couldn’t see him while she was singing. Today that would sound like a takeoff on the beginning of a new season of the NBC show, “The Voice.”
Etta James died a few days ago, the day after Johnny Otis passed away. They both left a tremendous musical legacy. In the early eighties when I was doing the “On the Record” segment for the today show I was fortunate to get to spend some time with them for profile pieces on the show. For one of the stories I filmed a performance by James in a women’s prison where she had served time for what, as best as I can remember, was a conviction for writting bad checks. As James told me in a later interview, which is in this video piece, her real problem was an addiction to drugs, particularly heroin.
Whatever troubles she faced in her life, it seemed as if was able to channel all that emotion into her singing which made her vocals all the more powerful. This video from the early 80′s was part of a series on women in rock, and is a reminder that all these years later she set a standard for vocalistists that few since have matched.
Johnny Otis died this week in Altadena, California at the age of 90. He lived long enough that for many young people today his name probably won’t ring any bells. If they hear a musician popular in the 40’s, and 50’s passed away, they might say, “Whatever he did, it doesn’t relate to what I’m listening to.” But in fact, Johnny Otis was there in the beginning to help lay the foundation for rhythm and blues, which would become the foundation for rock and roll. For people of a certain age, he will probably be best remembered for his hit record, “Willie & the Hand Jive,” but the musical influence of Johnny Otis extends far beyond writing & recording that one hit.
In 1950 alone, ten of his songs made Billboard Magazine’s R&B chart, and yet it was his ear for the talent of others that may be his biggest contribution to music. Otis discovered or produced some of the legendary R&B vocalists like Etta James, Hank Ballard, and Big Mama Thornton. He produced the original version of “Hound Dog” by Big Mamma Thornton, the song Elvis Presley would later record to help launch his career as the King of Rock & Roll.
I met Otis 29 years ago when I was doing my “On the Record” segment for the Today Show. In the time we spent together I learned how much more there was to appreciate and respect about Otis as a person and an artist beyond his fame as a performer on “Willie and the Hand Jive.” Rather than me retelling the details here, just watch this video I found from 1982 of my Today Show story about Otis.
Sippie Wallace recorded her first record in 1923. It was a blues classic with the songs “Shorty George” and “Up the Country Blues.” Fifty-seven years later I met Sippie in Detroit where she was still belting the blues in nightclubs on Saturday nights and then playing the organ and leading the choir on Sunday mornings. I spent some time with her in both the club and the church and then stopped by her home where she talked with me about her extaordinary career.
It was Sippie who first told me the only difference between the blues and gospel, the only difference between the music she sang on Saturday night and Sunday morning was the words. She said in the clubs she was singing “Baby” and in church she was singing “Jesus” She sang both for me for a series we were doing on American music for the Today show. This clip is another find from the Boyd closet of old tapes. Scott Goldstein was my producer at the time and we both were just looking for an exscuse to go meet some of the pioneers of the “roots” music we loved. The series also included stops in the “Windy City” for Chicago Blues and a stop in Louisiana for Cajun music. The series would become the inspiration for our regular weekly segment, “On the Record”.
Sippie was one of the big influences on singer Bonnie Raitt who would record one of Sippie’s songs, “Woman Be Wise,” and would also take Sippie on tour as an opening act. Two years after this story Sippie Wallace would be nominated for a Grammy and six years later she would suffer a stroke following a concert in Germany. Less than a month after the stroke, on her 88th birthday, she died in a Detroit hospital. Her contribution to the blues lives on in some of her most famous songs like, “Suitcase Blues”, “Woman Be Wise, “Up the Country Blues”, and “I’m A Mighty Tight Woman.”
I Spent an afternoon in a recording studio with Aretha Franklin back in ’81 or ’82 filming and interviewing here for a regular segment I was doing on the “Today Show” called, “On the Record.” She sat at the piano for the interview where I was hoping to get her to play and sing something unrehearsed, something that wasn’t part of the album. Before we began the formal interview I asked if she still played much piano. She immediately started playing a gospel number, (not one of the classics), and asked if I could name the song. I’m assuming she was thinking there was no way I would know the title, and the odds were I wouldn’t, Songs titles are not my strength, but by a lucky chance this was a gospel song I knew and I think my correct answer helped put her in the mood to play and sing for me. If only I had the field tapes we shot from that session.
I did find this copy of the story that aired on the Today Show and it has a brief clip of her playing and singing, “Near the Cross” in Aretha’s unmatched gospel style. It also has her laying down the vocal track for the song, “This is for Real” which would be on her new album. Looking back at the tape reminded me of how much access we used to get to the music industry for our “On the Record” segment. At the time no network news organization was covering the music business on a regular basis until I started the “On the Record” segment. They were so thrilled to be getting the coverage and publicity that we were given permission to film this recording session with Aretha and put the story on the air two months before her album was scheduled to be released. Now the record company or the artists would film the sessions themselves, edit the material to their liking, and then try to sell the package.
When you look at the video you will notice the producer for the record sitting in the control room is a young looking Luther Vandross. This was the first of two albums he would produce for Aretha. This one would be her first gold record in several years. Of course in the early 80′s it was not only a young looking Luther, but a young looking Aretha and young Boyd, and even a young Chris Wallace who was hosting the Today Show that day.
I spent a week with Hunter S. Thompson one day in 1988. If that sounds impossible, let’s just say when Hunter was wired and inspired keeping up with him for 24 hours left you feeling as if you’d lost a week somewhere but you couldn’t remember where. I was interviewing him for a story on the Today Show as part of my “Flying the Coupe” series. I started thinking about that day when I saw the trailer for the new Johnny Depp movie, “The Rum Diary” which is based on Thompson’s novel.
Getting him to agree to the interview was made easier by the fact he had a new book, a collection of his columns, coming out. But I had been warned that getting him to actually sit down and do the interview would be the challenge. I believed I had a secret weapon, an irrestible lure, to insure his cooperation, my 1963 red Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible. I was right, Hunter was up for riding in the car and talking about life, writing, politics, and excess. A slight correction, actually he had no interest in riding in the car, he insisted on driving.
As you will see in this video I gave him the keys and then I got in the passenger seat, which may have been riskier than when I climbed through the Khumbu icefall on Everest. Hunter, as was his habit, had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol before we started driving and he brought along a couple of loaded weapons to increase the entertainment factor.
Someday I’ll write the full story of everything that happened that day and night, but for now just enjoy the part of the encounter we deemed suitable for morning television in 1988.