From: "Robert W. (BOB) Pepper"
RIPPED FROM THE PAGES OF SMOKE SIGNALS
Speaking of Dewey Phillips, we were, weren’t we; “Does anybodywanta buy a duck?” Born in Hardin County Tn in 1926, the first “Wild Man” of the air waves moved to Memphis and began working as a record store clerk at W.T. Grant’s Department Store, downtown. He eventually moved across the street to the Chisca Hotel where the studios of WHBQ Radio were housed. Memphis radio was in for some big-time shock and awe
Dewey raised the bar for DJs with his absurd, seeming maniacal antics. In 1949, Red Hot and Blue began its nine-year run. Airing nightly from nine to midnight, Phillips played a mix of R&B, Country and the newest music fad, Rock and Roll. His hyperactive on air persona was, according to many, no act. Some have described him as ‘nuts’. When Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You Baby” was released, Daddy O Dewey made a double track recording which he aired billing it as “The first Stereo radio” broadcast.
Dewey ruled the late night airwaves pulling in an estimated 75-80% of the city’s residents. His big break came on July 8, 1954, when Sam Phillips (no relation) brought him a record that Elvis had cut in Sam’s Sun studio. "That's All Right/Blue Moon Of Kentucky". Arthur Crudup had recorded “That’s Alright, Mama” in 1946. Dewey played “That’s All Right”, “mama” had been dropped from the title, twelve times in a row, thus becoming the first DJ to play an Elvis song. The phones rang off the hook. The response was so great that Phillips got Elvis’ phone number from Sam and called his home. He spoke with Elvis’ mom, Gladys who told him that Elvis was working at the theater, downtown. Dewey talked to Elvis at the theater and had him ‘run’ to the station, immediately! Elvis was literally out of breath when he arrived. The two began talking and Elvis did not realize that their conversation was being broadcast. During the conversation, Dewey got Elvis to reveal his race by asking him what high school he attended. Because of the then segregated school system, his race was immediately identifiable. Git yasself a wheelbarrow load a mad hogs, run 'em through the front door, and tell 'em Phillips sencha!
If Phillips liked a record, he made it a hit in the Memphis area. This was the case with a song recorded by an unknown Walter Vaughn whose one hit "Down On My Knees" saw significant air play only in L.A., Texas, and Memphis, where it became hit.
Phillips was also the first to simulcast a radio and TV music show albeit short-lived. His TV sidekick, Harry Fritsius wore a gorilla mask and an overcoat and never uttered a word. In 1956, ‘Dirty’ Harry made some obscene jesters with a cardboard cutout of Jane Mansfield, the actress varies with different accounts, and the show was yanked from TV.
In 1958, the ‘Q’ wanted to change to the more popular “Top 40” format, which left Phillips out in the cold. When Phillips returned from vacation, he was released. One of the DJs hired to spin records was Jack Parnell.
Dewey worked about a month at a station in Little Rock before returning to Memphis. With the help of the “King” he landed a job at WHHM, which had taken most of the Memphis teenage audience from WHBQ and WMPS. During a Hogue and Knott commercial, Phillips said that he had been the store when someone yelled” Fire!” so he “Grabbed his meat and beat it” .Minutes later, he sent “ a song out to all the pregnant girls out there, ‘I didn’t know The Gun Was Loaded”. The station owner, an extremely protective parent of a teenage girl ended Dewey’s tenure at WHHM.
After working a while at Stax and at WGMM, a Millington top 40 station, Dewey’s demons caught up with him. Having been a over indulging patron of one of his sponsors, Champagne Velvet beer and also addicted to painkillers as the result of two automobile wrecks, Phillips faded into obscurity. He died of heart failure in 1968 at the age of 42, the same age as Elvis at his death.
On Thursday, Aug. 13th Phillips’ became the 78th Brass Note set in the sidewalk along Beale St. Temp link. Dee -Gawww!
A big Warrior thanx goes out to Alex Ward whose contribution made this article possible.