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BIG TOWN SONGBOOK

Celebrating New York's Musical Heritage

Man Out of Time - Mad Daddy

By David Hinkley

ON THE radio, Peter Myers called himself Mad Daddy, which by all evidence was truth in advertising.

He spoke in maniacal rhymes over the sound of bubbling cauldron, cackling as he raced to the next rock n/ roll record or perhaps the next ad spot he had taken the liberty of personally rewriting into a Mad Daddy-style rhyme.

Did you ever see a Martian beard?

The whiskers are purple and curly and weird

And two faces are harder than just one to shave

So the two-headed Martians just naturally race

For the cooler more comfortable shave they get

With push-button lather and blade by Gillete

Alas, by the time Mad Daddy got to New York, 1959, time was running out for his kind of radio.

BETWEEN THE unfold payola scandals and a general fear this rock `n'roll thing had gone far enough, radio stations were puling the reins on their disk jockeys. For one thing, most of them could no longer choose their own records, which in Mad Daddy's case meant growling rhythm-and-blues and the more than occasional novelty tune.

Jocks also were encouraged to play more music and spend less time talking, which diluted the personality appeal on which much of postwar radio was based.

On many stations, the jocks were bigger stars than the artists they played, a stature traceable in large part to black rhythm-and-blues jocks like Jocko Henderson, Hot Rod Hulbert, Dr. Jive and Willie Bryant. Their style was picked up by white jocks right alongside the records they played.

That Pee Myers was a descendant of Jocko was hardly surprising. The San Francisco-born Myers had studied action as a young man at the Royal London Academy of Dramatic Arts, and he knew all about learning from the best. After London, Myers migrated to New York. But he found himself on the second tier, a character actor who worked regularly on TV but never got any indication producers saw leading man potential.

One too many shifts in the toy department at Macy's sent him back to San Diego where he landed a radio gig. The work was routine. But a new wind was blowing through radio now, as rhythm-and-blues started plowing the ground for rock `n' roll. Ohio became an epicenter of this new sound, and Myers got a gig in Akron, where he played a wild mix of rhythm-and-blues he called "wavy gravy" many years before the term resurfaced in San Francisco.

Myers would later say the "Mad Daddy" idea came to him all at once, on a night when his desperation for a career-making splash boiled over. Others say he had been developing the character for years. However it happened, it worked. By January, 1958, he'd been hired by WJW in Cleveland. Six months later, rival WHK hired him away. Soon he was the biggest thing in Cleveland, with a line of shoes called "Batty Bucks" and fans lining the streets as he drove around in a pink Pontiac wearing a black cape. Now he smelled the big time.

AND IN June 1959 he got the offer to work at WHK's sister station WNEW in New York with the chance of a TV show on the side. He leapt. But there was one problem. WNEW was not a rock`n'roll station. WNEW played popular standards and featured hosts like William B. Williams, who hated rock'n'roll. WNEW didn't want Mad Daddy, rock'n'roll Pied Piper. It wanted Pete Myers, radio announcer. Myers knew this.

But somehow he persuaded management to let him do Mad Daddy in his evening slot, 8 to midnight. It will bring you a whole new audience, he argued. Mad Daddy debuted on July 4, and response was immediate. The station received hundreds of calls with letters to follow, asking who had lost his mind. Come July 5 then, Mad Daddy was gone. In his place, 8 to midnight, was Pete Myers, radio announcer. Frustrated but helpless, he spent the next four years introducing Sinatra Records.

THEN, FINALLY, in 1963, he was offered a spot on rock'n'roll WINS, where the station manager was Neil McIntyre, a friend from Cleveland. Myers revved up Mad Daddy, and some of the spark returned.

Jet speed, saucer blasts, smoke and fire

Mad Daddy flies up higher and higher

But things weren't the same. Rock'n'roll radio had mellowed, or at least changed. While he could still slip in LaVern Baker songs, and he would like this new band called the Beatles, he could no longer segue

from Howlin'Wolf to Link Wray. He had to play Herman's Hermits and Lesley Gore, who weren't exactly gravy.

Despite a brief run in syndication, he was increasingly seen as a novelty act, and in April 1965, when WINS dropped rock'n'roll for news, Myers hung up his cape for good. He went back to WNEW as "Lovable, laughable Pete Myers," playing pop music every afternoon for workplace listeners.

He divorced and remarried, and old friends said he seemed to be trying to make the best of things even as he realized the pink Pontiac days were over.

WNEW shifted him to evenings in October, 1968. The turf Mad Daddy once ruled now was a step out to pasture.

On Friday, Oct. 4, his first scheduled night on his new shift, he put on a nice outfit, picked up one of the shotguns he collected and walked into the bathroom.

His wife, Lisa, heard a blast --and the last maniac on commercial rok'n'roll radio was gone. He was 40.

All right here in the land of the rhyme

We're shot the wad

It's closing time

The wiggy light goes out

Brush your teeth and say your prayers

and cha-cha softly up the stairs.

NY Daily News April 7, 2005