Among my many writing assignments over the years was a weekly music column I wrote for the student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, during the early 1970s. Called His Master’s Voice, it was supposed to be an insider’s guide to the national music scene, providing band trivia and gossip with a personal touch to the collegiate masses.
Now the smarter among you might reasonably ask, “How did a 19 year old kid – living in a small Kentucky town a million miles away from the nearest industry insider – manage to pull off a weekly column about the ins, outs and minutiae of the music biz?” Well, it’s been 30 years, so now I can admit something – I cheated.
Each week I’d comb through every music magazine and newspaper I could find, even using the largess of the Kernel to snag a few unauthorized subscriptions. Once my clips started wending their way through the system to music promoters, I began to get freebies galore (free records, promotional items and even the subscriptions I needed to keep the ruse alive) and was well on my way. It paid off. A one hit wonder band that even I don’t remember used one of my review quotes in their advertising – probably explaining why they were one-hit wonders.
Don’t get me wrong, I was no Jayson Blair. I didn’t make the articles up, I just borrowed liberally from other sources and used my considerable skills as a rewrite man to make them sound fresh and new. To keep it believable, I used small, out-of-the-way items that most people weren’t reading. One example was a series of short blurbs I gathered from Rolling Stone and several other west coast music mags that discussed rock impresario Bill Graham of San Francisco. The gist of it was that he was squeezing the life out of rock & roll by treating his famous acts rather ham-handedly. Today, the guy, although dead for several years now, is a sort of local hero. Go figure.
I wrote my little attack article. It went to press. And I – and I’m sure everyone who read it – promptly forgot about it. Well, not exactly everybody.
Several months later, as a poured over my stack of music company freebies, I came across an important looking letter with a finely embossed return address for a law firm in Charlotte, NC. Puzzled, I opened the envelope, took out the letter and began to read, “Dear Sir. Our client, the Reverend Billy Graham, was quite offended by the article that appeared in your newspaper on blah…blah…blah.” My jaw dropped as I skipped to the end of the letter where it said, “therefore, we demand that you immediately print an apology in the referenced publication within 30 days and further demand that you cease and desist writing any articles about the Rev. Graham.”
To this day I wonder how that particular clip made its way to Reverend Billy and how anyone – even someone as brain-addled as I believed him to be at the time – could possibly mistake the rock & roll promoter Bill Graham for the famous evangelist Billy Graham. In the midst of the Watergate era it gave me more than a little shock to think I might be on someone’s famous Enemies List. After all, the Rev and Tricky Dick were very good friends at the time.
End the end, I quietly laid the letter aside and decided to wait to see what happened. Nothing did. Waiting for the other shoe to drop, I nearly forgot about the incident and lost the letter. Pity, I’m sure I could get a good price on eBay with it today. However, I still have some hate mail I got from the American Nazi party (NOTE: this is actually the link to these loons’ site, so don’t go there if you are squeamish.) about another article, but that’s a story for another day.
Since the Reverend is doing his final revival this week, I hope that he’s forgotten about this little incident too. He may be old, but he’s still friends with an impressive list of presidents, prime ministers and other potentates. I always figure it’s not a good idea to cross a guy like that. But still, it sure would be nice if I had a copy of that letter.
So Mr. Graham, if you still have a carbon copy, could you shoot one to me. I swear I won’t say anything bad about you.