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Rock & Roll Rewind: "Biggest Show of Stars"

Jimmy Reed holding a guitar.
Amanita Records

c d kaplan is a lifelong rock & roller. He’s got stories. Lots of ‘em. Here’s another.

In a sec, I’ll explain how I know for a fact the first show I ever attended was the “Biggest Show of Stars” on July 29, 1961 at Fairgrounds Coliseum (Freedom Hall).

The lineup was headlined by Dee Clark, whose latest hit was “Raindrops.”

There was also Jimmy Reed, The Pips (before they were Gladys Knight and singing among other songs their current hit “Every Beat of My Heart”), Phil Upchurch Combo (“You Can’t Sit Down”), Ben E. King (“Stand By Me”), Chuck Jackson (“I Don’t Wanna Cry”), The Miracles (before they were Smokey Robinson and) — “Shop Around”— and Shep and The Limelites (“Daddy’s Home”).

I do have memories of Jimmy Reed, the long time bluesman whose radio hit it at the time was “Big Boss Man.” He seemed a lot older than his 36 years which he was at the time, and he sat on a folding chair during his entire set,

Other than that I do not remember much about the music, other than that it was like being in wonderland.

I do recall a bunch of some peripheral stuff. It was my first time, right?

Besides there’s an advertisement for the gig sitting in front of me as I write. It is on the back of that week’s WKLO Hit Paraders Tunedex, listing the station’s Top 40 hits, plus eight tunes under the heading “New And Looking Good.”

The songs listed above are the ones that appear in the ad for each artist.

I came into possession of this piece of memorabilia when researching my first rock & roll story, a LEO cover piece about promoter Martin Cohn, who produced that concert.

Cohn, a teacher by trade, was a long time local concert promoter. He’d being doing shows for years, mostly jazz early on, including Duke Ellington, Sinatra, plenty of others.

His first rock & roll production in town was the continuation of the winter tour, after Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens went down in that Iowa cornfield plane crash.

He was responsible for many others, some of which I’ve previously mentioned along the way, the Stones in ’64, Dylan in ’66.

Cohn was a collector. He had filing cabinets packed with all attendant paperwork from every show he ever did. Contracts, which he allowed me access to peruse, including one signed by Brian Epstein for the Beatles to appear at the Fairgrounds. It was never approved by the Fair Board. Attendance figures, weather on the day of the show, etc.

All sorts of stuff, trivial to most, but fascinating and a treasure trove for someone like me obsessed with rock & roll anecdotia.

He also had every artist he promoted autograph several 8x10 glossies.

One of those, a signed Sam Cooke, hangs on my wall.

Another reason why the show was memorable, as if it wouldn’t have been otherwise, my seats were front row center. Literally. Which I won in a jitterbug contest at the JCC with Perri Jo Kaplan (no relation).

As for the contents of the Tunedex that week, the chart topper was “It’ll Be Easy,” the first single by local favorites, The Sultans. The Top 5 included U.S. Bonds’ “Quarter to Three,” and “Yellow Bird” by Lawrence Welk. Eclectic times those.

One other memory of the evening. I’d gotten my driver’s license a month or so before.

So, yeah, my date and me — Perri Jo was out of town — and no parents dropping off and picking up.

Observer of the Passing Scene: Pop Culture and Sports. Writer. Film Critic. Curmudgeon. Rock & Roll and Louisville Cardinal fan.

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