When Dick Clark first arrived at WFIL in Philadelphia, he was just one of a half-dozen young clean-cut staff announcers, each intent on making his own mark in one of the nation's hottest radio and television markets.
While Clark's boyish charms may have been disarming to some, his ambitions soon became obvious. By the time he took over Bandstand and maneuvered it onto the national stage as American Bandstand, there was no questioning who was in charge.
Not content with merely directing the behind-the-scenes machinations of a network television show, Clark sometimes inserted himself into altering the creative content that made up the heart of the show.
To his credit, Clark is credited with changing the title of a little ditty recorded by a group of Philly teens from Do the Bop to At the Hop, a move that helped make Danny & the Juniors national stars. Clark is also said to have made a few changes to Freddy Cannon's Tallahassee Lassie and persuaded Lloyd Price to clean up the lyrics of Stagger Lee for the American Bandstand audience (more on that in a later post).
But one of the most curious Clark-orchestrated content changes involved a young singer and disc jockey from Opelousas, La., named Rod Bernard.
Bernard bought his first guitar at age 8, earning most of the money by selling pecans. He made his radio debut at age 10 and soon became a radio regular. In 1956, he joined some high school classmates in a band called the Twisters. The band played at teen centers on weekends and Bernard deejayed on the local radio station after school during the week.
An early Twisters recording went nowhere, but following high school graduation they cut two sides for Floyd Soileau of Jin Records at J.D. Miller's fabled studio in Crowley La., in an all-night session - Bernard's own composition, Pardon, Mr. Gordon, backed with a song written and recorded first by King Karl (Bernard Jolivette), This Should Go On Forever. The session ended with Bernard's head wrapped in a towel due to a severe nosebleed. The altered sound proved popular with teens.
Soileau had his records pressed by RCA in Linden, N.J., then had to ship them to his distributor in New Orleans, a process that became problematic as This Should Go On Forever broke out as a regional hit across the Southeast and Texas. Soileau solved that problem by leasing the disk to Leonard Chess of Chess Records, who released the record nationally on his Argo subsidiary label.
As the song crept into the national Top 10, it caught Dick Clark's attention. He soon booked Bernard for American Bandstand and his Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show. Bernard embarked on a two-week national tour to plug the record when Clark had an unusual request. Someone had complained about use of the word "sin" in the record; would Bernard be so kind as to re-do the record without the offending phrases?
No problem, replied the Bernard camp. Musicians were hastily assembled at Miller's studio and were soon laying down the instrumental track, which was shipped to Chess in Chicago. Bernard flew into Chicago one night, added the G-rated vocal and a single acetate was cut for use only on the Clark shows.
When Bernard arrived at WFIL in Philadelphia for his Bandstand debut on March 6, 1959, he was understandably nervous. For one thing, his appearance was touted by Opelousas newspapers and radio as the biggest thing to hit the city since it was named capital of Louisiana during the Civil War after Union forces occupied Baton Rouge or since native son Jim Bowie died in the siege of the Alamo.
But of greater concern to Bernard was the fact that he would be lip-syncing to his hit with lyrics he was unfamiliar with. Bandstand producer Tony Mammarella made sure Bernard had a dressing room equipped with a turntable and the acetate so he could practice before airtime. There were a couple of other minor union-related issues at WFIL, but things were quickly resolved.
Bernard made it through both appearances in fine shape, though Clark neglected to bring the acetate to New York for the Saturday night show. He was rescued by his wife, Bobbi, who delivered the disk shortly before Bernard's appearance.
Bernard returned a hometown hero and his career was taken over by Bill Hall, who earlier managed the Big Bopper. Bernard's 1962 hit of Colinda featured studio work by brothers Johnny and Edgar Winter, who each earned $10 for their efforts. Bernard later concentrated on a radio and television career at KLFY in Lafayette, La.
Somehow, the acetate for the Clark shows made its way to England, where it has occasionally popped up in reissues. Bernard's son, Shane King Bernard, produced a documentary about his father in 1986. It's available on YouTube in two parts. The second part has details about Bernard's Dick Clark experience. Here's part 1:
Here's part 2:
Do you have any stories about Bandstand, Dick Clark or growing up in the Philadelphia area during the show's run at WFIL-TV? Please share them in the comments section or e-mail them to me.