Alan Freed

by Candace RichComment — Updated August 3, 2023
Alan Freed  He was a man of contrasts. A divided man – part visionary and part self destruction. A big drinker who never believed he would grow old, and didn’t.

Inducted with the first group ever into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Alan Freed is a legend.

Whatever else he may have been, he heard the Beat. He came to understand that this was the future. This raw sound, this Beat.

More vital and far less sorrowful than blues, this sound, this beat was alive. And it made people want to dance with the joy of being alive and young. This was a teen phenomena.

1950s Music - Alan Freed 1951- Freed came on at 11:15 PM -2:30 AM Saturdays. WJW-AM in Cleveland. “Moondog House Rock and Roll Party” he called it. But the music was Rhythm and Blues. And the name referred to the show.

Freed’s sponsor was a record store, Record Rendezvous, down the street from the studio. If they purchased a record, his job was to push it.

Called himself Moondog – a creature of the night. Pleaded with listeners to come in and pledge their loyalty to him – to be Moondoggers. And as reward for this loyalty, someday he was gonna throw them a huge party in Cleveland’s Arena. He’d invite all the artists whose songs he played.

Which isn’t exactly how it turned out. The Moondog Coronation Ball, held in Cleveland on March 21, 1952, was a riot. A madhouse of people and energy. Like Freed, a contrast. A raging success and a total failure. Click on link to read more about it!
Did he coin the term “rock and roll”? Probably. And if he didn’t, he made it famous.

According to Bill Haley, while Freed was listening to a Haley tune, he was strumming a phone book. Rock, rock, everybody, roll, roll, everybody. Hmm. That’ s it. Rock and Roll!

Well, except. Rockin’ and rollin’ and reelin’ were terms commonly used in the Black community to describe sex. Yes, dears, it’s true. Many of those tunes of your youth weren’t nearly as innocent as you thought.

1950s Rock & Roll
Freed would wait until 1:00 AM when he thought the station manager was asleep to play the sexiest of them. 60 Minute Man (what, you thought it was about a Timex?), Work With Me Annie, Let the Good Times Roll. When you reconsider the lingo of the day, these songs get much more interesting.

What needs to be said is that the man was devoid of racial prejudice in a time that was rank with it. He refused to play White “covers” of songs by Black artists.

His popularity soared with the acceptance of this new music, this new sound. The Beat. And he was off to a bigger market. New York City.

September 6, 1954 – WINS-AM. The big time at age 32. He became so popular that in 1957 he signed a $29,000 per day deal with Paramount Studios to make “Don’t Knock the Rock.” His co-stars were Bill Haley and the Comets, the Treniers, Little Richard, Allen Dale and Dave Appell. Other movies included “Rock, Rock, Rock” and “Rock Around the Clock.”

He tried a couple of Rock shows. In 1958 he defied a ban on Rock and Roll and held a concert in New Haven, Connecticut. Another attempt in 1959 ended in a riot. Charges arising from that show were later dropped.

More problems. While in New York, he was sued by a blind streetsinger named Louis Hardin, who had long been known as “Moondog” and claimed rights to the name. Freed went back to using his own name.

But real trouble lay just around the corner. Freed had a TV show, “The Big Beat” on WNEW, NY, from 3 to 6 PM daily and 9- 10 PM Saturdays. On November 26, 1959 two dectectives showed up to serve Freed with a suphoena to appear before the N.Y. District Attorney. The nature of the inquiry? Payola.

WNEW dropped the show, followed by WABC radio where he moved his radio show in 1958. They fired him for refusing to answer a payola questionaire.

Work was hard to come by. He drifted from city to city working smaller stations.

In 1962 he pleaded guilty to two counts of commercial bribery stemming from the payola investigation. He received a six month suspended sentence and a $300 fine.

What seems curious about this arrest is that payola wasn’t illegal until 1960. If this new Rock music had not been so threatening, it seems unlikely that payola would have been an issue. Today the word is weighted and seems shady. But back then, it was more the practice than the exception. Freed said in 1959, “if I go down the drain, a lot of others will go down with me.” Some did, but none would fall as far or as publicly or as dramatically as Freed.

Things went from bad to worse. In 1964 the N.Y. Federal Grand Jury indicted him for $37,000 of income tax evasion stemming from the years 1957, 1958, and 1959.

He never recovered from these disasters. Freed died in Palm Springs, CA in 1965 of uremia . He was 43 years old. As he predicted.


Listen to Alan Freed! Audio files streamed for Windows Media Player.
Explanation – Day after Coronation Ball
Last Goodbye to Fans and Friends
Introducing and claiming authorship credit for Moonglows’ Sincerely
Spooky WNEW TV interview with Buddy Holly, discussing airplanes and crashes.

Song Charts:
1950   1951    1952    1953   1954   1955    1956   1957    1958   1959

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