Alan “The ‘Ol Jive Daddy” White
By: Kevin “Notepad” Stanley
“I’m the original Disco Man, with the original Disco plan.”
………James Brown (1978)
Some would say there are no swashbucklers left. That real dyed-in-the-wool daredevils only exist these days in extreme sports or on the pages of comic books. Such doubters have never met Alan Ray White. In his over fifty five years in music (and his seventy-four years of life) he’s been able to have more than his share of adventures. And he’s far from done.
A Bopper’s Beginnings
Alan’s story begins in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1941. I could tell you about his childhood or his family. I could even mention his stint in reform school, but these and other hell-raising tales from his youth are only so much greasy kid’s stuff. Things don’t get really interesting until 1956. At this point Alan – now barely more than fifteen – took it upon himself to go into the teen club business. And what better place to open up shop than his basement?
He was a very clever kid. He put his drum kit up on a riser and covered all the lights in the room with crinkly red Christmas cellophane. An old toy shelf, turned around, becomes the bar. There were nickel smokes and nickel cups of Kool-Aid…on the rocks, of course. In a side room, there were card tables and a main table with a plastic roulette wheel. And an ingenious system whereby the light in the gaming room was rigged to a switch wired under a loose board on the stairs. In the event of a “bust,” the light would flash! There was a big turntable with detachable speakers that held a stack of 45s. There was room on the floor for dancing…and room on the couches for making out. A tree in the front yard with a limb like a traffic cop’s arm held a sign that advertised the club and a smaller under that hung from eye hooks that said “Open” or Closed”. And “The Bop Shop” was born. This very clever kid’s very clever venture ran for over a year-and-a-half. It was finally shut down, but not by the law. A raid led by his stepmom took the ‘bop’ out of the shop for good. But Alan would be in the nightclub business from then on.
From a shop full of bop to a room full of rumpus
Fast forward to 1964. Alan, now 24, is working for WHVW-FM. Live 95 in Hyde Park, NY, on the outskirts of Poughkeepsie. And I mean working! He was doing morning news on the quarter hour from 7-9, selling ads from 9-1, producing them in the studio from 1-3 and doing afternoon drive, following #1 rated Large Sarge. (Large Sarge went on to become Johnny Donovan at WABC in New York and eventually became the so called “Voice Of God”, as the staff announcer for Rush Limbaugh.) Alan occasionally found time in there to eat, use the bathroom, and – if he was particularly conscientious – breathe. Oh, did I mention the six hour call-in show he did for them on occasional Saturdays? There was that, too. All of this for the whopping salary of $60 per week…about $450 in today’s money. In spite of such a hectic schedule, he still found time to play drums in pickup bands on Fridays and Saturdays.
His big break would come, not at a counter at Schwab’s, but at a Mr. Softee restaurant. Yep, you read right. The manager had heard about Alan, and wanted to hire him on weekends to spin tunes in the restaurant’s dining area. The deal was very simple: a dollar a head. Alan pressed Lance Michaels – one of the station’s engineers – into service as an equipment roadie for $10 per gig. It turned out to be a very good deal all around. The first night brought in 130 kids. Even more on the second night. Alan decided he was in the wrong business.
Not much later, WHVW Sales Manager Bill DeCeasar put up half of the money to buy The White Stag Tavern, a club near the Connecticut New York State border where the drinking age was 21, (it was 18 in New York), from its owner, who wanted to retire. Alan and his father put up the rest. After the backroom was remodeled, the club reopened as The Rumpus Room Discotheque. Opening on Friday September 3, 1965 it is now regarded as the first discotheque in America. The Rumpus Room also featured both bands and recording artists and Alan spun records before the live entertainment got underway, between band sets, and late night from a DJ set up put together from old equipment he and Bill commandeered from the radio station. This accidentally made Alan the first Club DJ in America. Alan continued to work The Rumpus Room off-and-on for a couple of years, booking other acts as a sideline job. Soon, however, his sideline would turn into his next adventure.
By the summer of 1966, he was a theatrical agent full-time. For the next two years, at both Washington, DC’s, Paramount Artists Corporation, and New York’s, Action Talents, he booked some of the era’s top recording artists:
* The Shangri-Las (Leader Of The Pack, Remember, Walking In The Sand)
* Len Barry / The Dovells (1-2-3, The Bristol Stomp, You Can’t Sit Down)
* The Peppermint Rainbow (Will You Be Staying After Sunday)
* The Crystals (Do-Ron-Ron, He’s A Rebel)
* The Lemon Pipers (Green Tambourine)
* Dee Dee Sharp (Mashed Potato Time, Gravy)
* The Brooklyn Bridge (The Worst That Could Happen)
There were others, like The Chartbusters, The British Walkers, The Kalin Twins, The Ohio Express, guitar genius Roy Buchanan, Jimmy Jones, Joey Dee & The Starliters, The 1910 Fruitgum Company and The Kasenetz Katz Singing Orchestral Circus. But these are stories for another time. For the next few years, after leaving the agency, Alan kicked around the Philadelphia area managing Len Barry’s solo career and sinking ever deeper into the Disco scene. A 1960’s rock-n-roll star, writer and producer, Barry would have the first Disco like hit with his band of studio musicians, (including a young Daryl Hall), which he named The Electric Indian: 1969’s Keem-O-Sabe. Most of those same studio musicians eventually became MFSB.
From King of Disco to King of Swing
The Disco storm was brewing. When the beat and the music finally caught up with the club concept Alan had seen on the horizon a decade prior, he was there to reap the benefits. Disco proved bery bery good to him. His Disco show proved such a beneficial addition to Baltimore’s nightlife that he was named the city’s “Nighttime Mayor” by then Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer in 1975.
Once, also 1975, Alan appeared on Maury Povitch’s Washington D.C. daytime show, Panorama, along with British author Nik Cohn. As the show was drawing to a close, Maury asked Alan if Disco was next. “Bet the farm,” he quipped. Maury then turned to Nik and said “Here you go Nik…why don’t you just rewrite “Rebel Without A Cause”, (the 1956 James Dean movie they had been talking about), and make it a Disco movie.” Everyone had a good chuckle and the cameras faded to black. Three years later, “Saturday Night Fever”, based on a short story by Nik Cohn, hit theaters nationwide. Rebel gone Disco – a dead on rewrite of “Rebel Without A Cause”, re-worked into a story about Disco dancing. And the rest, as they say, is history. How’s that for a Gump-y moment. Alan’s had his share.
His Disco exploits carried him up and down the Eastern Seaboard during the late-70s and brought him to Atlanta where he’s been for almost 40 years. From 1977-80, he worked Jeryl’s – the top Atlanta Discotheque throughout the Disco era. Then there was Harlow’s, another top Discotheque. Then Johnny’s Hideaway from 1987-96. When Alan started at Johnny’s, their format was strictly Big Bands. Music that far predated W.W.II – and in some cases predated the club’s clientele. Alan wanted to move away from the Lawrence Welk-style standards and infuse some energy into the playlist without alienating the audience. Using his years of musical knowledge and programming experience, he came up with a format that one time Hideaway manager Jim Kileen referred to as “dancing through the decades.” Alan thinks of it as “the dance music of your life.” And it worked. In a big way, it worked. And it also schooled him about something else waiting on the horizon.
During the transition from the old format to the new, Alan noticed one constant: the swinging dance music of the Swing era continued to work on the dance floor. This, coupled with the growth out west of a Neo-Swing subculture, caught his attention. He had a feeling that Swing was on its way back…and he wanted to be ready. He decided to hone his expertise on Swing, and in the midst of his education he rediscovered his passion for it. A passion fueled by the energy and love of the dance of the younger generation of enthusiasts. Swing was the music of his own youth.
In 1998 there was a huge revival of Swing music, led by The Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Brian Setzer and others. Alan soon found himself headlining a top Atlanta club dedicated to these new Swing Kids, called Oscars and he quickly became the go to DJ for the Swing Kids in Atlanta. When Oscars failed due to under-financing and mismanagement, Alan moved to Club Anytime and eventually landed at Reunions Lounge in the Perimeter Marriott Hotel where he remained for almost a decade. He continues to DJ Swing dances at clubs around Atlanta and in the ballroom in at the Georgia Tech Student Center.
An idea about bringing the whole shebang into the digital age had been percolating in his mind for a while. He’d also wanted to bring back Top 40 radio, which played the top hits and always mentioned the title and artist. But these ideas had had to wait. Sometimes because of technology or money. The timing just hadn’t been right. He waited to see if some of Swing’s biggest acts would break on radio or the video networks. There were some notable ripples on alternative radio, but for the most part these media stayed Swing-free zones. Frustrated, he decided that if radio wasn’t going to play Swing, he’d just have to start his own station…in cyberspace. And it would give him a chance to rally the troops.
Swing was very much a fragmented musical subculture. What was listened to in Atlanta wasn’t the same music that was listened to in New York, or Southern California. While part of this was the natural outgrowth of each city’s particular taste, it was also due to the fact that there was no real unifying factor in the new, Neo-Swing scene generally.
“Someone’s got to bring all this different regional music into some kind of worldwide consistency. Everybody plays good swing – but it’s all different swing.” Alan argued.
If everyone in the listening community was on the same page Alan reasoned – communicating who’s listening to what where – only then could the culture grow.
He went back to work on his idea, and, when he was able to find talented people who believed it, things started to fall into place. And in 2001 he and a partner created the pioneering Internet radio station, SwingTop40Radio.com. Over the next two years SwingTop40Radio.com, (still in cyberspace, but now playing hundreds of Countdown Show segments in random sequence in perpetual archive), SwingTop40Radio broadcast 108 weekly Swing Top 40 Countdown Shows, eventually becoming the station of record for the Neo Swing movement worldwide.
Today with Modern Jive dancing exploding in England and beyond, Alan has created an entirely new Internet radio station, JiveBopRadio, once again to broadcast dance music for dancers – this time the music of Modern Jive. So yet another adventure begins for a man whose life has been full of them. Swing’s own Jive Daddy. A man who defies comparison and continues to make big things happen. And the hits keep right on coming…