Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Soul on the Air #13 - Bill "Butterball" Crane, 1967

Part One

Part Two

The parade of WVON "Good Guys" continues with today's "Soul on the Air" feature, and of all the "Good Guys," I have received more than a few requests for today's subject, Bill "Butterball" Crane. Although Bill Crane was not the only "Butterball" plying his trade on R&B radio in the '60s and '70s - there was a Butterball in Philadelphia, and a "Butterball Jr." in Detroit, to name two - he's the only one for whom I've found any airchecks.

Bill Crane grew up in Chicago's Ida B. Wells housing projects, where he cultivated a love of radio and electronics. Crane parlayed this interest into a radio career, and after a stint at Chicago's ill-fated WYNR he joined the WVON stable and local fame followed. I don't know much about his post-WVON career except that at the dawn of the twenty-first century he was a senior engineer for WGN radio, and I found a post on Soulful Detroit stating that he is alive and well. Hopefully I will be able to get more information after this post!

On to the aircheck itself. Today's feature finds Butterball holding court on August 25, 1967. In addition to Butterball's patter and the records, there's a lot of good stuff, ranging from the usual commercials of the era to an "On the Scene With Geraldine" segment ("On the Scene" featured ladies' fashion and homemaking advice by Geraldine C. Washington, one of the station's two female "Good Guys" - the other was Sunday gospel host Isabel Joseph Johnson) and a news break focused on the Democratic primaries in Jackson, Mississippi, in which black voters were expected to make an impact with their relatively-new freedom to vote. All of that good stuff, however, is just icing on the cake, as Butterball's slick and funny patter really shines among the great soul records that fill the aircheck. Dig Butterball's intro to Linda Jones' "Hypnotized," his plea to the engineer to allow him to play "O-O I Love You" by the Dells twice in a row, his comment about his "raggedy" "natural" hairdo during a Billy Stewart record and his shouting over King Curtis' "Memphis Soul Stew" that kicks off the second part of the aircheck. "Who's that ringing my telephone? Who's calling me?" he bellows. "Mr. Chess [either Leonard or Phil, Chess Records and WVON owners] says I can't have no company, y'all!" Although Herb Kent makes it clear in his memoirs that such a rule wasn't always followed (he mentions that sometimes he and other jocks would pay the engineer to set up long uninterrupted sets so that the jocks could, ahem, entertain), it tickles me every time I hear it. Near the end of the aircheck, Butterball hands off to E. Rodney Jones, and the first few minutes of his show close out the aircheck.

One last note about the various "Butterballs": Crane and at least one of the other "Butterballs" also were part of the parade of soul DJs who tried their hand at making soul records. Our Butterball's Lock two-parter "Steppin' Tall" is a funk favorite, but even bigger among funk fans is a "Butterball" (from where, I don't know) whose "Butterballs" is a seriously-slamming, hard-hitting, piece of funk that features some of the strongest proto-rap I've heard on any 45 by a soul jock. Both tunes are very good, though, and I will try to feature them on the blog at some point. But for now, get on down with the Butterball of WVON!

CORRECTION - The "On the Scene" program named above was "On the Scene With Bernadine," hosted by Bernadine C. Washington. Thanks to the commenter who caught this mistake!


edie2k2 said...

*Doing the HAPPY DANCE*

Thank you so much Jason. The quality of this aircheck is superb! I'm listening as I type and of course, in HEAVEN. I always eat these UP.

You are my favorite blogger in the world. I just wish you knew how much I appreciate all that you do.

BRAVO!!!!!! ..to infinity and beyond.


HumanTon said...

I love these airchecks! They really make the world behind the soul era come alive.

(I do question Butterball's decision to follow up Gladys Knight with Martha Reeves, though. Mix it up a little there, fella!)

coolcarl13 said...

No disrespect to Chicago's living legend, Herb Kent...Bill "Butterball" Crane was probably one of the greatest air personalities of all time. The "working man's DJ," as a kid I remember his voice on the radio in every corner grocery store, restaurant, liquor store and gas station in the "hood." One of the original rappin' freestylers, rhyming and styling, even over the records, and in most cases, even adding to the allure of the song. What a great DJ, along with all of the "Good Guys" at WVON 1450!

Rick said...

Absolutely love this!! But what on earth is that first song? It's tormenting me!

The Stepfather of Soul said...

Rick, the song is "Forget It" by The Sandpebbles.

Alex said...

I really enjoyed this post. Anychance you'll share the file-links with us? i'd like to put them on my ipod :)

dwheelz said...

Getting a kick out of looking up the business addresses on Google map street views.

Todd Lucas said...

Don't know where you dig up all of these great airchecks but I can't thank you enough for sharing them. Absolutely great stuff.

Dee said...

The First Lady, and I believe, also vice president, of WVON was BERNADINE C Washington.

I had forgotten some of the businesses mentioned.

Thanks for the memories

The Prime Minister said...

Thank you.. Thank you and Thank you again. For this site. It's refreshing to hear real Black radio.

The one thing about WVON and the Good Guys was the fact that they were all GOOD. Pervis, Herb, Richard, Rodney, Ed, Joe, Butterball, Lucky all of them. It seemed like each jock hit a chord with the people of Chicago. Chicago listened to each one of them. One person says Butterball was the Greatest. Another likes Ed Cook And don't forget one of the strongest voice ever in radio E. Rodney Jones. Joe Cobb was not joke either. Even Lucky Cordell was good. How do you rate a "jock" anyway? It all boils down to one's personal preference. And today, I loved them all. Because you don't hear radio like that anymore. The Whispers said " You never miss the water until the Well runs dry! Butterball by all means was a monster on the Box. And a wizard in electronics too. Butter knew his stuff.

But that's how the jocks were back then. They all studied the craft. Even Herb knew how to build radios. Butterball along with a little known person named Larry Langford kept WVON a 1000 watt/day 250 watt/night station clean and clear sounding.

I appreciate your opinion but for me ALL THE GOOD GUYS WERE GREAT!

The Prime Minister said...

Thank You for this site. Man oh Man to hear the folk that influenced me to be a radio jock! I love it.

The one thing about the personalities at WVON. They were all GOOD, Each one of them had their following. None was greater than the other.

Butterball is a monster on the Box. Technically hitting the post front selling and back selling.

Butterball's ace in the hole was the fact he acted as the station's engineer along with a little known electronics genius named Larry Langford. WVON was 1000 watts by Day and 250 Watts at night and Butterball along with Larry Langford kept the station sound strong, clean and clear.

Butterball did his job well.But Joe Cobbs was no joke! Pervis had the Blues locked up. E. Rodney Jones was gifted with a set of the greatest pipes on the planet. Luck Cordell was the Baron of Bounce, Ed Cook the Nassau Daddy and Herb was a killer on the box because he kept daytime radio going at night.

Herb created The Wahoo Man, Electric Crazy People. Gym Shoe Creeper. Not to mention the fack that Herb was the "Piped Piper" to teenagers in the WVON Hey Day.

So who was the Greatest !!!

Victor said...

The lady's name is/was Bernadine C. Washington not Geraldine. Just helping to keep everything correct.

Bill said...

Bill "Butterball" Crane of WVON fame, and more... is my Dad!...
Happy Birthday, Dad... (July 3rd.).
Bill, Jr... Redlands, CA...

Denise McKnight Childs said...

My name Is Denise McKnight Childs better know as his Daughter that never met him . If there someone out that can help me fine my family Bill "Butterball" Crane of WVON fame please help me contact me on face book or by email denisemcknight@hotmail.com