Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Soul on the Air #13 - Bill "Butterball" Crane, 1967
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!