Wednesday, February 4, 2009

KNEW Spokane

In 1963 Jimmy Soul had a hit song called "If You Wanna Be Happy."

My early-teen-aged buddies and I listened to the song on Spokane's "top 40" radio station KNEW. Some of the lyrics went like this--

If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life
Never make a pretty woman your wife
So for my personal point of view
Get an ugly girl to marry you

A pretty woman makes her husband look small
And very often causes his downfall
As soon as he married her and then she starts
To do the things that will break his heart

But if you make an ugly woman your wife
Ah' you'll be happy for the rest of your life
An ug-a-ly woman cooks meals on time
And she'll always give you peace of mind

Well . . . we weren't quite sure the last phrase really said . . . she'll always give you peace of mind. Sometimes it sounded like . . . she'll always give you a piece of (unintelligible). AM radio stations seemed to have some interfering static right then, but we knew what we heard. Either that, or there was some other reason the lyrics weren't 100% clear to us.

We didn't know Jimmy Soul's telephone number or where he lived, but we did know the whereabouts of the KNEW broadcasting station. It was on Moran Prairie-- just a couple of miles from our homes and just about 30 minutes away by bicycle. So, we decided to ride up there and ask Larry Lujack-- probably the most famous disc jockey among the Spokane teenagers-- Just what was the oracle Jimmy Soul singing?

KNEW (now KJRB) was started as KVNI in 1946 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a license to the Coeur d'Alene (Idaho) Broadcasting Company. In 1947, the company moved to Spokane and changed the call sign to KNEW. The studios were in downtown Spokane but were then moved south to Moran Prairie in 1954. The studio was just adjacent to the transmitter.

Larry Lujack was born in 1940 in Idaho (as Larry Blankenburg). He started working as a disc jockey in Idaho at age 18. He was at KNEW Radio in Spokane (now KJRB) from 1962-64. After that he went to Seattle's KJR until 1966. He then went back east to work, primarily at WLS in Chicago (20+ years). He’s been a radio star in the Chicago area since first arriving there more than 40 years ago. Lujack chronicled his career in his 1975 autobiography "Superjock." Although he retired in 1987, he's continued to do some remote broadcasts since. He lives in New Mexico.

Anyway, we rode our bicycles to the KNEW studios on Moran Prairie. We went right up to the window and could see Larry Lujack working away at the microphone. The music was piped to speakers outside. We knocked on the glass. During a song Lujack came to the back door and we asked our question. I think he was smoking a cigarette-- or maybe my buddy was smoking one. Larry Lujack chuckled and gave us an answer and then went back inside. We rode away. The mystery of the "true" lyrics is still unsolved. (Listen to the record and you'll hear what I'm talking about).

Jimmy Soul was born in 1942 (as James McCleese) in North Carolina. He performed gospel music as a teenager. He was discovered and recruited to sing songs which had been handpicked for-- but rejected by-- Gary U.S. Bonds ("Quarter To Three"). Jimmy Soul only had two hit singles, both of which were Bond's cast-offs-- "Twistin' Matilda" (1962) and "If You Wanna Be Happy" (1963) which became a Billboard Hot 100 number one hit. Jimmy Soul was unable to follow up the success of those two songs, so he gave up his career as a musician and joined the US Army. He died of a heart attack in 1988 at age 46.

1 comment:

  1. Good article. Do you remember a booking agent named Billy Tipton from Spokane? Billy booked my ex's band when they worked in Spokane as "Sidekick," around 1978-80. (could have been earlier) There is another interesting life.