Alan Freed : The Fall (1958 and after)©2003JCMarion
Alan Freed began a tour of the Northeast with an all star rock 'n' roll show in April of 1958 which was seen by many as a test of both his popularity and the enduring popularity of the music he presents. His position as the leader of the pop music world according to the American teenage public (the largest segment of record buyers) has been challenged by Dick Clark since the television show "American Bandstand" went national from its Philadelphia base. In mid April Freed opened the tour at his old stomping grounds, the Brooklyn Paramount. The five shows did big box office business showing that the dj still had a big following. The show headlined Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly & The Crickets, and Chuck Berry, and also featured The Chantels, Diamonds, Pastels, Billie & Lillie, Larry Williams, and the solo Frankie Lymon on the "Big Beat Spring 1958" tour. Competing touring shows are doing as well at the box office as Freed's which is said to be proof of the disc jockey's lasting popularity.
On May 3 the show stops off at the Boston Arena. That show becomes a landmark event in the history of rock 'n' roll music and will have repercussions for years to come. Many accounts of the events of the night have been presented, and as usual there are many points of view debated. From most accounts, a group of fans in the balcony became rowdy and others began to dance in the aisles. The usual police reaction provoked many others and the so-called riot was on. The rest of the show was cancelled that Saturday night and by Monday the finger pointing began. Lurid accounts of looting, stabbings, and drug selling were lodged, although the Boston police with their heavy presence did not make a single arrest ! Freed was charged with anarchy under an archaic Boston law that someone dug up charging him with advocating that his audience overthrow the United States government ! Once the legal system swung into action it was clear that this was a third rate set up and all charges were dropped, and it was admitted there was no looting, no stabbings, and no wanton drug use and sales. But - the intentioned damage was done. Boston, and then New Haven, and Newark, New Jersey all banned any live presentation of rock 'n' roll music. These actions and reactions would be repeated for years in the generational clash of values and style. But Freed pressed on in that most American of towns, Hershey, Pennsylvania. The show went off without a hitch and was enjoyed by all in the audience.
Two other news events on the music scene that same day were interesting. The first was that the venerable Newport Jazz Festival, held each summer in Rhode Island, would feature rock 'n' roll acts beginning that July. Artists scheduled to appear were Big Maybelle, Joe Turner, Ray Charles, and Chuck Berry. The second story was that Dick Clark's cross country touring show was cancelled "for the present time" as stated by his representatives. Another big result of the Boston incident was that Freed exited his long time New York radio station WINS because he felt that the station did not give him their full support over the Boston show. In less than a week he was signed by WABC radio for a Monday through Saturday 7 - 11 pm show. It was also announced that he would be considered for a post on WABC television in New York.
In June it was announced that Freed would have his own television show, but for WABD a New York independent TV station. He would take over the afternoon dance hop show that was previously hosted by Herb Sheldon. There is also talk of a Saturday night TV show. During Labor Day week, both Freed and Dick Clark were scheduled to host competing shows in New York with Clark booked for the Brooklyn Paramount. Freed does not have definite plans and soon Clark cancels his Brooklyn Paramount date. WABD television plans to use the newly perfected method of videotape to syndicate the daily Alan Freed record hop shows to other stations across the country. Freed would do some local commercials to be used in the syndication.
Freed does line up a show for Labor Day week, this time at the Brooklyn Fox Theater right down the street from the Paramount. Headliners for the show prove out the direction of the music by late 1958 - Jimmy Clanton, Jack Scott, Frankie Avalon, Jo Ann Campbell, The Poni Tails, Chuck Berry, Bobby Freeman, and The Danleers. The result of the Brooklyn Paramount nixing Freed due to the "Boston incident", and Freed's future itself ? The Fox show presented Freed with the biggest gross take of his entire career. He began to set up his Christmas show slated for Loew's State Theater in midtown New York City. That show would have Johnny Ray ( ! ) and The Everly Brothers as co-headliners. In October Freed is signed by Hal Roach in Hollywood for two motion pictures to begin shooting later in the month. Jackie Wilson is signed for Freed's Christmas show in New York and also for an appearance in his film being shot in Hollywood.
The "Christmas Jubilee of Stars" stage show held at Loewe's State Theater in midtown Manhattan in New York City was a big box office success. The pop direction of the one time "Moondog" was apparent in the headliners - Johnny Ray and The Everly Brothers. In March of 1959 Alan Freed has the Monday through Friday record hop television show every afternoon on WNEW, and now is adding a Saturday night "Big Beat" show with emphasis on in person appearances by top recording acts. The Saturday pm show will air from 8 to 9 which immediately follows Dick Clark's ABC network show the same night. Tony Middleton formerly with The Willows and now a solo artist, is one of the first performers signed for the new show. That same month the Alan Freed motion picture "Go Johnny Go" for Hal Roach is ready for distribution. The movie also stars Chuck Berry, The Cadillacs, Jackie Wilson, and the recently departed Richie Valens.
In April, Freed hosts an Easter show, this time at the Brooklyn Fox Theater. His Saturday night TV show is a ratings winner, and ABC radio has renewed his contract ending rumors that he would be fired. Freed presents a new Arkansas group Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks with two appearances on his television show. Jerry Butler and Wade Flemmons also make appearances with Freed on TV. In July the picture "Go Johnny Go" opens in neighborhood theaters nation wide. Freed books the hot vocal group from Brooklyn, The Passions, as their record of "Just To Be With You" on Audicon is taking off in sales. In September, Alan Freed plugs a record that had disappeared from playlists and suddenly began to sell. The record is "Sleepwalk" by guitarists Santo & Johnny on the Canadian-American label. Freed also does some wonders for Sonny Till & The Orioles. They recorded a new version of their historic hit record "Crying In The Chapel", again on Jubilee Records, and given a heady push on the Alan Freed Big Beat TV show, is back on the national best sellers charts.
In October, an interesting appearance on the Freed TV show occurs as the guest female vocal group, The Delicates who record for United Artists Records, present their latest release called "Meussuray" which is a song about a jive language (a la Pig Latin) used by Freed rival Murray ("The K" ) Kaufman at Freed's former station WINS. In late October the bomb drops as many rock 'n' roll disc jockeys are investigated for accepting cash and other gratuities for playing certain records. The practice commonly called"payola" is on the front burner for Congress and the FCC which states that if an employee of the station is guilty of this form of bribery, then that station could lose its license to broadcast. The main protagonist in the action is ASCAP who urged the House Oversight Committee to look into the operation of radio djs. Alan Freed was a noted casualty of the probe, and he was fired by radio station WABC in New York for refusing to sign a disclaimer stating that he had never accepted money to play records on the air, and he also lost his daily dance and Saturday night television shows. Fred Robbins took over his radio spot and singer Richard Hayes took over the tv shows as mc. Freed wore his trademark red plaid blazer for his final television show and said that he wore it to all his openings and closings.
More damaging testimony was given in the widening payola scandal concerning Alan Freed. This time the subject was a mortgage loan originally lent to Freed by Jerry Blaine head of Jubilee and Josie Records, and Cosnat Record Distributors. The loan was subsequently held by Roulette Records head Morris Levy, and the relationship of Freed and Levy was being questioned by authorities. In 1960 a New York grand jury investigated the practice of illegal gratuities ("payola") and resulted in a charge of income tax evasion by the IRS. Freed refused to testify before the Oversight Committee, and was later brought to trial in late 1962. He pleaded guilty to numerous counts of bribery and his punishment was a paltry fine of a few hundred dollars and six months probation. During this time he had short stints at KDAY in Los Angeles, and WMAQ in Miami. In March of 1964 he was indicted by a federal grand jury for tax evasion. Before he could come to trial he passed away in Palm Springs from uremia on January 20, 1965. He was only 43 years old.