Home Rock music Art Laboe dies at 97; DJ played (and popularized) ‘oldies but goodies’

Art Laboe dies at 97; DJ played (and popularized) ‘oldies but goodies’


With its cheerful baritone and enthusiasm for old rock, R&B, doo-wop and soul, Art Laboe has been a staple of West Coast radio for 79 years. The gregarious Los Angeles disc jockey was considered as much a voice of the city as Dodgers announcer Vin Scully or Lakers sports commentator Chick Hearn.

Mr. Laboe, who died Oct. 7 at 97, broadcast to radio stations across California and the Southwest, where his call-in show served as a community bulletin board and gathering space, a platform allowing children to dedicate songs to their parents or for friends to send messages of love or support. His audience included generations of Mexican Americans, who forged close ties with the Armenian American DJ while calling in to request songs from artists like Sister Sledge, Freddy Fender and Big Joe Turner.

“His show was the first place a young Chicano kid had to express their feelings, the first place you could say something and be heard,” said Ruben Molina, the author of books on Chicano music and culture, in a 2009 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It was like an intercom where you could say to the world – our world – ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I love so-and-so’, and everyone knew it the next day.”

Mr. Laboe was still working until his death, although at a more leisurely pace than when he rose to prominence in the mid-1950s, hosting an all-night record show where he interviewed teenagers and other night owls until 4 am. He was one of the first DJs to play rock music on the West Coast, one of the first to play white and black artists on the same program, and one of the first to launch the “oldies” radio format. “, playing artists from the 50s and 60s long after they disappeared from the pop charts.

“If you have to define an oldtimer, I would say we’re looking for songs that relate to a particular time and place, that entered people’s lives and made the listener think about where they were and what he or she was doing when they first heard the song,” he told Billboard magazine in 1974. “You may not remember the name of the band, but you remember the song.

Mr Laboe has often been credited with popularizing the phrase “oldies but goodies”, which he trademarked and used for a series of 15-volume compilation albums he released through his own label, Original Sound . Under Mr. Laboe the label also released contemporary rock hits which included the 1959 singles “Bongo Rock” by Preston Epps, which reached No. 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and “Teen Beat” by Sandy Nelson, which rose to No. 4.

To many listeners, he was best known for his dedication and request show, “The Art Laboe Connection”, which has aired for the past few years on 93.5 KDAY in Los Angeles. By the 1990s, the show had become a way for family members to reach loved ones in prison and often featured song dedications for those incarcerated in California, Arizona and Nevada.

Mr. Laboe liked to tell the story of a woman who walked into his studio so her young child could say to her incarcerated father, “Daddy, I love you.

“It was the first time he heard his baby’s voice,” Mr. Laboe told The Associated Press in 2019. “And that badass burst into tears.”

More often than not, his conversations with listeners were upbeat, dwelling on love and relationships. “Art,” one caller said in 2009, “I want you to tell my husband, Juanito, ‘You’re my Chicano king. I’m your bootylicious. I can’t live without you. I’ll never let you go. And I want you to give her a big kiss for me and play ‘You are my shining star’.”

“OK, Juanita,” Mr. Laboe replied. “Here is that kiss. … Muah!”

Arthur Egnoian was born in Salt Lake City on August 7, 1925. His mother was a homemaker and his father worked in a foundry and died when Mr. Laboe was a boy, according to his executive assistant and show producer, Joanna Morones. .

Mr. Laboe grew up in Los Angeles, where he was raised in part by two older sisters and fell in love with radio. The medium “opened new doors for a guy who wasn’t a big hunk,” said Mr Laboe, who was just over 5ft tall.

“I used to sit with my hands on my chin looking into the grill cloth,” he said. says NPR“imagine someone on the other end.”

Mr. Laboe was educated at Stanford University and served in the Navy, training in the Signal Corps – an experience that helped him land his first radio job, at San Francisco station KSAN, who hired him when he was 17. he adopts a more conventional American-sounding name, he becomes Art Laboe, taking the surname of a secretary.

In the mid-1950s, he hosted a radio show in Los Angeles, where he played early rock hits while other DJs stayed with tunes by Dean Martin or Doris Day. “It was like a tidal wave, and the kids went crazy about it,” he told LA Weekly. in 2005.

“Everyone was playing ‘My Way’ by Sinatra, and all of a sudden I came up and said, ‘Hey mothers, get your girls together, here comes Art Laboe and his evil music!’ ”

Taking the microphone out of the studio, he broadcast live from Scrivner’s Drive-In restaurant in Hollywood, where he was occasionally joined by pop musicians such as Ricky Nelson. Mr. Laboe would accept song requests, allowing teenagers to choose from a list of tunes which he would then play on air. “You choose them, you consecrate them and you get them,” he said.

At the bottom of the request sheet were songs he called “oldies but goodies”, tracks like the Penguins “Angel of the Earth” or Johnny Ace “Promise my love”, which were a few years old but were consistently picked on by listeners.

Recognizing that there was interest in artists who had been popular a year or two earlier, Mr. Laboe organized an “elder dance” in the nearby town of El Monte, to circumvent a Los Angeles ordinance barring children under 18 to attend dances that were not organized through the school system.

The show attracted Mexican American teenagers from the Eastside of Los Angeles, helping Mr. Laboe connect with the city’s Chicano population. He then organized a host of old-hits shows in addition to promoting concerts featuring popular musicians such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers and Ray Charles.

Mr. Laboe also got into the compilation album business. As he said, he was on a date, listening to 45 singles and having fun on the couch, when he kept getting interrupted by trouble with the record player. “Every time things got interesting, the spindle would stick or something else would go wrong and I had to get up and fix it,” he recalls. “Finally this girl said, ‘Why doesn’t somebody put these things on an album?’ ”

By 1959 he had released “Oldies But Goodies Vol. 1”, which featured songs by bands such as the Five Satins and the Teen Queens and inspired more than a dozen sequels. He increasingly focused on his recording business in the 1960s, and by the early 1970s he was working at Los Angeles station KRTH, which helped establish the oldies radio format, he also ran an oldies dance club on the Sunset Strip, in what is now the Comedy Store; bought radio stations in Tucson and Fresno, California; and worked on music licensing for films such as “American Graffiti”, “Dirty Dancing” and “Lethal Weapon” .

Mr. Laboe was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2012. He died at his home in Palm Springs, Calif., after being diagnosed with pneumonia, said Morones, his assistant. He was twice married and divorced, predeceased by two sons, and leaves no immediate survivors other than his devoted following. “My listeners,” he once told the Los Angeles Times, “they are like family.”