Art Laboe dies at 97; DJ plays (and promotes) ‘Old but Good’

With his cheerful baritone voice and passion for old rock, R&B, doo-wop and soul, Art Laboe has been a regular on West Coast Radio for 79 years. The sociable Los Angeles disc jockey is considered the face of the city as much as Dodgers announcer Vin Scully or Lakers sports commentator Chick Hearn.

Mr. Laboe, who died Oct. 7 at the age of 97, aired on radio stations in California and the Southwest, where his phone show served as a community bulletin board and gathering space for children to dedicate songs to their parents or friends to send messages of love or support. His audience includes generations of Mexican-Americans who have forged close ties with Armenian-American DJs, while also calling for songs from artists such as Sledge Sledge, Freddy Fender and Big Joe Turner.

“His show is the first place a young Chicano kid has to express his feelings, the first place where you can say something and be heard,” Ruben, author of books on Chicano music and culture Molina told the Los Angeles Times in a 2009 interview. “It’s like a walkie-talkie where you can tell the world — our world — ‘sorry’ or ‘I love so-and-so’ and everyone knows it the next day.”

Mr. Rabo worked until his death, albeit at a more leisurely pace than when he rose to fame in the mid-1950s, hosting an all-night record show where he interviewed teenagers and other night owls until 4am. The first DJs to play rock music on the West Coast were among the first to play white and black artists on the same show, and one of the first to pioneer the “oldies” radio format, where artists in the 1950s and ’60s played It disappeared from the pop charts long after the show.

“If you had to define an old song, I’d say we look for songs that fit a particular time and place, that go deep into people’s lives and make the listener think about where he is and what he or she is doing when they first hear the song, ‘ he told Billboard Magazine in 1974. “You may not remember the band’s name, but you remember the song.

Mr. Laboe is often credited with promoting the phrase “oldies but goodies”, which he trademarked and used in his 15-volume compilation series through his own label, Original Sound. Under Mr. Laboe’s leadership, the label has also released contemporary rock songs, including Preston Epps’ 1959 single “Bongo Rock,” which reached number 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and Sandy Nelson’s “Bongo Rock.” Teen Beat”, the single rose to number 10. 4.

For many listeners, he is best known for his dedication and demand show “The Art Laboe Connection,” which aired on 93.5 KDAY in Los Angeles in recent years. By the 1990s, the show had become a way for family members to connect with loved ones in prison, and often performed songs for incarcerated people in California, Arizona and Nevada.

Mr. Rabo likes to tell the story of a woman who walked into his studio so her young child could say to her incarcerated father, “Dad, I love you.”

“It was the first time he heard his child’s voice,” Mr. Rabo told The Associated Press in 2019. “This tough, stubborn guy was in tears.”

More often, his conversations with listeners are upbeat, focusing on love and relationships. “Art,” said one caller in 2009, “I want you to tell my husband Juanito, ‘You are my King Chicano. I am your booty. I can’t live without you. I’ll never be without you. Won’t let you go.’ I want you to give me a big kiss and play ‘You Are My Shining Star.'”

“Okay, Juanita,” Mr. Rabo replied. “Here’s the kiss. . . . um!”

Arthur Egnoian was born on August 7, 1925 in Salt Lake City. According to Joanna Morones, his executive assistant and show producer, his mother was a housewife and his father, who worked in a smelter, had Mr. Rabo when he was a boy. died. .

Mr. Laboe grew up in Los Angeles, where he was raised by two older sisters and fell in love with the radio. Mr Rabo, who is just over five feet tall, said the media “has opened new doors for a handsome guy who is not tall and not good looking”.

“I used to sit on my chin and look at the grill cloth,” he told NPR, “and imagine someone on the other end.”

Mr. Laboe studied at Stanford University, served in the Navy, and trained in the Signal Corps—an experience that helped him land his first radio job at San Francisco station KSAN, which hired him when he was 17. After the station manager suggested he adopted a more traditional-sounding American name, he became Art Laboe, taking the surname of the secretary.

By the mid-1950s, he was hosting a radio show in Los Angeles, where he played early rock songs while other DJs stuck to Dean Martin or Doris Day tunes. “It’s like a tide, and kids go crazy about it,” he told Los Angeles Weekly in 2005.

“Everyone was playing Sinatra’s ‘My Way,’ and all of a sudden I came up and said, ‘Hey moms, get your daughters together, Art Laboe and his devilish music is coming!’ ”

After taking the mic out of the studio, he broadcasts live from Scrivner’s Drive-In restaurant in Hollywood, sometimes joined by pop musicians like Ricky Nelson. Mr. Laboe would accept song requests, allowing the teen to choose from a list of tracks, which he would then play. “You pick them, you give them, and you get them,” he would say.

At the bottom of the request form are songs he calls “oldies but goodies,” like “Earth Angel” by the Penguins or “Pledgeing My Love” by Johnny Ace, which are a few years old but are consistently picked by listeners .

Aware of the interest in artists who were popular a year or two ago, Mr. Rabo organized an “old cabaret” in nearby El Monte to circumvent Los Angeles’ ordinances banning children under 18 from dancing. Not organized through the school system.

The show drew Mexican-American teens from the Eastside of Los Angeles to help Mr. Rabo connect with the city’s Chicanos. In addition to promoting concerts by popular musicians such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, and Ray Charles, he organized numerous performances of oldies.

Mr. Laboe also dabbled in the compilation business. As he said, he was on a date, listening to a single at 45 rpm, and hanging out on the couch when he was constantly interrupted by problems with the record player. “Every time things got interesting and the spindle got stuck or something else went wrong, I had to get up and fix it,” he recalls. “At the end, the girl said, ‘Why didn’t anyone put those things on the album?'”

By 1959, he had released “Oldies But Goodies Vol.” 1″, which included five satin and Teen Queen songs, and inspired more than a dozen sequels. During the 1960s, he became increasingly focused on his record business, and by the early ’70s he was in Los Angeles Worked for the KRTH radio station, which helped establish the oldies radio format. He also ran an oldies dance club on Sunset Boulevard (now the Comedy Store). Purchased radio stations in Tucson and Fresno, California; and Produced music licenses for films such as American Graffiti, Dirty Dancing, and Lethal Weapon.

Mr. Rabo was inducted into the National Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2012. Morones, his aide, said he died at his home in Palm Springs, California, after being diagnosed with pneumonia. He was twice married and divorced and died before his two sons, leaving no immediate survivors other than his devoted audience. “My audience,” he once told the Los Angeles Times, “are like family.”

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