Saturday, November 21, 2020

Godspeed Herb Solow

Herb Solow, the former Desilu executive who brought Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, and Mannix to television, died November 19 2020 at the age of 89. The cause was complications from Parkinson's disease.

Herb Solow was born on December 14 1930 in New York City. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1953. It was not long after he graduated that he got a job at the William Morris Agency working in the mailroom. He was promoted to a talent agent in 1954. He later worked as program director of NBC Films (the syndication arm of the network NBC), where he supervised the production of various syndicated TV shows, including the Western Boots and Saddles. Afterwards he worked at CBS as Director of Daytime Programs, West Coast. He was at CBS for a year before returning to NBC as Director of Daytime Programs there. At NBC he worked with Grant Tinker (later co-founder of MTM Enterprises and CEO of NBC from 1981 to 1986) and oversaw production of the game show Let's Make a Deal.

Herb Solow was the executive in charge of production on the shows A Man Called Shenadoah and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. It was in 1964 that he was hired by Lucille Ball to help revitalize Desilu Productions following her divorce from Desi Arnaz. He helped develop Star Trek and sold the show to NBC. He also helped develop Mission: Impossible and Mannix and sold both shows to CBS. In 1967 Lucille Ball sold Desliu to Gulf+Western, who had also recently bought the motion picture studio Paramount Pictures. Mr. Solow then took a job at MGM Television as vice president in charge of television production.

At MGM he oversaw production of Then Came Bronson, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and Medical Centre. He went onto become Vice President of Worldwide Television and Motion Picture Production at MGM and was the head of both MGM's Culver City studios in California and its Borehamwood studios in England. He oversaw production of the documentary film Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970).

After he left MGM, Herb Solow produced the TV movies Climb an Angry Mountain, Heatwave!, Killdozer, and McLaren's Riders. He co-created Man from Atlantis with Mayo Simon and served as the show's executive producer. As an independent producer, he produced the movies Brimstone & Treacle (1982), Veliki transport (1983), Get Crazy (1983), and Saving Grace (1986).

He co-wrote the book Star Trek: The Real Story (1996) with Robert Justman (who had been associate producer and producer on Star Trek) and The Star Trek Sketchbook (1997) with his wife Yvonne Fern Solow.

Herb Solow definitely had an impact on television history. At Desilu he oversaw some of the most successful and well remembered shows of all time. Indeed, Star Trek and Mission: Impossible would become franchises, while reruns of Mannix are still in syndication. The shows he oversaw at MGM also saw success. The Courtship of Eddie's Father and Medical Centre had respectable network runs and would be seen in syndication for years. While Then Came Bronson only ran for one season, it remains well-remembered to this day. Similarly, while his own production, Man from Atlantis also ran for only one season (not counting the four TV movies that had preceded it), it would go onto become a cult show. Herb Solow had a knack for knowing what would be successful and developing it in such a way to insure such success.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

"Rumble" by Link Wray

If you are a fan of power pop, punk rock, or heavy metal, you have a Native American to thank. Link Wray did not invent the power chord nor was he the first popular music artist to make use of power chords, it was his instrumental "Rumble" that not only popularized the use of power chords, but distortion and feedback as well.

Fred Lincoln Wray, Jr. was born on May 2 1929 in Dunn, North Carolina. His paternal grandfather was Cherokee. His mother was Shawnee. As Native Americans, Link Wray's family was subject to racism in North Carolina. When they could, they passed as white, to the point that they even listed their ethnicity as "white" on 1930 and 1940 United States Census. Link Wray's mother refused to teach her three sons the Shawnee language out of fear that they might be subject to persecution if they were caught speaking it. As might be expected, when Link Wray was growing up, Native Americans were often the target of the Ku Klux Klan. When the Ku Klux Klan was burning crosses in the area, Link Wray's mother would turn off all the lights in their house and place blankets over the windows. It was not unusual for them to hide under beds, in barns, and even in holes in the ground.

It was following service in the United States Army during the Korean War that Link Wray began his music career. Initially Link Wray and his brothers (Vernon and Doug) played country music, but like many music artists of the era he eventually found himself playing rock 'n' roll. It was in 1957 at a dance in Fredericksburg, Virginia that his most famous work, "Rumble," began to take shape. Link Wray's boss, a local DJ named Milt Green, asked Mr. Wray to come up with something suitable for the latest dance craze, the Stroll. Link Wray started improvising with his guitar. The distortion in the song originated when someone placed a microphone close to one of the amps.

The resulting instrumental would prove popular with audiences, who consistently requested. Although now known as "Rumble," it was originally called "Oddball." After rejections from both Capitol and Decca, Link Wray approached Cadence Records. Cadence founder Archie Bleyer disliked "Oddball," but observed that his daughter loved the instrumental. He then signed Link Wray to the label.

As to how "Oddball" became "Rumble," there are two differing stories. One is that it was Archie Bleyer's daughter who renamed the song. The other is that it was Phil Everly of The Everly Brothers who suggested the title "Rumble." In both versions of the story the title "Rumble" was suggested because the instrumental sounded like a street fight.

"Rumble" would prove to be controversial. The song was banned by radio stations in New York City, Boston, and elsewhere because the word rumble was a slang term for a street fight and some feared the song's harsh sound would encourage juvenile delinquency. Regardless, "Rumble" proved to be a hit. It went to no. 16 on the Billboard singles chart.

"Rumble" would prove to be influential, to the point that it can be said that it directly influenced the genres of garage rock, power pop, punk rock, and heavy metal. Pete Townshend of The Who once said, "If it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I never would have picked up a guitar." Ray Davies of The Kinks has also cited Link Wray as an influence. Iggy Pop credited "Rumble" as having led him into his music career. "Rumble" would have a lasting impact on rock music and gave rise to entire genres of rock.