I had a rather surreal experience the other morning. One of the biggest names in Hollywood gave me a call on my cell. Nah, it wasn’t an offer to be in a movie or TV show..but to respectfully decline an invitation to come home and be present in person for his induction into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame April 16th.
The Hollywood big shot is GARY OWENS! Okay, I’ll bet I’ve lost some of you 40 and under types; “Gary who?” you say, “Never heard of him.” Oh, yes you HAVE! Even if the name doesn’t automatically ring a bell you’ve certainly “heard” him. Here’s a little background: Gary Altman was born and raised in Plankinton west of Mitchell. His mom was a teacher and county auditor; his dad was the sheriff. As a kid, he loved the idea of being on the radio and was determined to make that happen. He was just a teenager when KORN Radio in Mitchell gave him a chance. From that humble beginning, he went on to become one of the best known radio voices in the country. At a time when AM radio deejays were superstars who could influence the careers of rock and roll singers just by playing their songs, Gary Owens (he dropped the Altman) was one of the biggest.
With his delicious baritone pipes, clever off- the- wall commentary and crazy comedy characters, he conquered stations thoughout the Midwest and Southeast taking every one of them to number ONE in the ratings. During the fifties and sixties, he not only played the records of Elvis, Buddy Holly and all the other big names in rock and roll but he knew them personally. “I always worked off a playlist, though. I never took a penny in payola,” Owens told me. By 1961, he’d had made it to the top station in Los Angeles. From there he began breaking into television with guest appearances on the Jack Benny Program, McHale’s Navy, and The Munsters just to name a few. He also began doing voices for cartoon characters like Roger Ramjet, Space Ghost and hundreds more. In 1968, because of his quirky sense of humor, he was picked to be the straight laced, gibberish-speaking announcer on the wildly popular Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In which ran for six seasons on NBC. He was known for coining the phrase, “Beautiful Downtown Burbank.” Owens has done over 30 thousand commercials, is a member of the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame right between Walt Disney and Betty White.
Even at 75 and partially retired, Gary Owens is still busy. In fact, as I was writing this, I heard him on network TV voicing a movie trailer for an upcoming film.
Anyway, Owens was calling me back to express his genuine gratitude for being inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and disappointment at not being able to be in Sioux Falls on the 16th because of a prior commitment in San Francisco. We did interview him live for about an hour last week on Grant Peterson’s radio program over KBRK in Brookings. He is an absolute delight to visit with; humble, hilarious and the pride of Plankinton. Okay, that’s who WON’T be here. Let me tell you who WILL!
2011 Inductees include, The Torres, Don Robar and the Monarchs , The Shattoes, The X-Men, DD and the Fayrohs, Steve Ellis And The Starfires and The Pilgrims. As incredible as it may seem, every one of the groups being inducted will actually take to the huge stage at the Ramkota Exhibt Hall and perform those same rock and roll songs they were known for back in the day. Some members have flown across the country several times to a place where they could gather together and rehearse! Speaking of reunions, this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert will be highlighted by the return of THE MOB.
This amazing horn and show band out of Chicago packed the popular Mocamba Club in Sioux Falls where they played on a regular basis during the late sixties and early seventies. Audiences just loved their big sound and high energy. Members of The Mob loved South Dakota too which is why they’ve decided to accept their induction into the Hall of Fame IN PERSON and have gotten together from all over the country for the first time in nearly 30 years to make the magic happen again with an hour long performance to close out the evening at the Ramkota. “Who knows?” says Mob lead singer, Big Al, “This just might motivate us to taking our show back on the road.”
Only general admission tickets remain for this special induction ceremony and concert Saturday April 16th. They’re available at Lewis Southgate. For more information on the show and the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, CLICK HERE.