'Disc Jockeys, Preachers, and Elvis'
By Ron Brandon
Book Review by Piers Beagley - March 2022
From author/DJ Ron Brandon 'Disc Jockeys, Preachers, and Elvis' is a self-published biography.
Ron Brandon was the person who recorded Elvis' 1956 live performance in Tupelo and our Elvis legacy would be less rich had he not done so and then sent Elvis a personal copy!
Which Joan Deary luckily found and released on 1984's 'The Golden Celebration' set.
The book details "55 years of Behind The Scenes stories of Disc Jockeys, Rock & Roll, and Elvis.. as told by the author that lived them"
Includes 23 chapters, 96 pages, 150 photos many in color, 9x11 inches, large type easy to read print, excellent quality.
Packed full of fun stories from 1950's to 2010, EIN's Piers Beagley spent some time enjoying this very interesting real life journey...
Ron Brandon is known in the Elvis World for recording Elvis’ Live 1956 home-coming performance in Tupelo. Our Elvis legacy would be less rich had he not done so - and then sent Elvis a personal copy!
His detailed "55 years of Behind The Scenes stories of Disc Jockeys, Rock & Roll, and Elvis.. as told by the author that lived them" features 96 pages and is a self-published book.
Chapters include sections on radio stations WTUP Tupelo 1956, WMOC Chattanooga 1962, WNOE and Marty Lacker New Orleans 1963, 'Radio Music Report' magazine, Sex Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll, as well as the story of 'Elvis comes home to Tupelo' and Brandon's discovery of the Elvis Mystery Kisser
The book is self-published. As he notes in his neat introduction “This was a one-man project. I wrote and did all the associated work in putting this little publication together, graphic artist, layout, editing, rewriting, digging through cardboard boxes from dank, dark corners of closets, fighting with an ancient computer that refused to acknowledge upgrades, and all sorts of mayhem and cusswords.”
While all too many people think of the radio and television world as a place of glitter and excitement with Disc Jockeys leading the glamorous life of celebrities like Wolfman Jack or Casey Kasem, the reality is actually hard work with weekend and overnight shifts for too little pay and a hard-fought family life.
Ron Brandon’s 55 years in the entertainment business is no doubt very similar to the thousands of people who have kept radio stations on air since before the creation of rock 'n' roll.
EIN NOTE: I need to add a disclaimer here as I too have worked on radio, continue to work in the TV broadcast industry and I am still working weekends! However my career started in a rather less exciting 80s!
Over the 96 pages Ron Brandon describes his life from the early days of getting his ham radio licence and his first job at Tupelo’s WTUP radio station in 1956 through to 2010 and being the person who discovered “Wertheimer’s” Elvis “Mystery Kisser” Barbara Gray.
It is quite a journey, all that more tiring as he is forced from radio station to radio station searching for the perfect job.
The first chapter, which explains how radio stations had to use Church Preachers as a source of revenue and leaving 17 year-old Ron Brandon in charge of keeping them to time, is delightful.
Back then he writes,”I loved, loved, loved working on the radio. I couldn't believe that they would actually pay me to do something I enjoyed so much”
This is a neat contrast when in 1990, 34 years later at his last radio gig, he would be writing, “I gritted my teeth.. I managed to tough it out for two years and thankfully that was enough. I don't recall if I quit or I was fired.. I was out the door.”
Between those jobs Brandon describes his life working in radio stations from Chattanooga to New Orleans, Richmond, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Cincinnati to Charleston and many other towns. It was obviously a life on the move, meeting lots of friends along the way all while struggling to keep a relationship together.
In chapter 2, over nine exciting pages, he describes how, only a few months into his employment at WTUP tupelo, he ended up recording Elvis' home-coming concert of September 26, 1956.
The fact that he had to lug two large two units weighing 25 pounds each to be able to record the concert is an eye-opener. Without his hard work Elvis fans would never got the all-important recordings that we have.
He also explains...
“One aspect of the concerts that got my attention was the total lack of any formality, or structure. Various photographers wandered about on stage at will. There were no backstage passes in those days.. in fact no identification of any type. The cops had no real idea of why they were there, and rarely seemed to know just what to do”
There’s a fantastic photograph of him side of stage with super fan Judy Hopper who would manage to jump onto the stage to grab Elvis that day.
“Even the incident with Judy Hopper climbing on stage was very subdued. When Charlie interviewed her later, she was a really nice kid, with no idea why she had done it”
(Ron Brandon, right, beside the policeman)
Brandon also explains that it was WTUP’s Charlie Watts who recorded the famous interviews with Elvis and not Jack Cristil of WELO who is the person always incorrectly credited. Brandon has a photograph showing Watts interviewing Elvis' parents to prove this and writes “This is the first and only time Charlie Watts photograph has ever been credited in print with his interviews”.
Brandon goes on to explain how by chance he thought of sending Elvis a copy of the recordings and how he was tremendously pleased and very surprised to receive a return package from Elvis. “Enclosed was a vote of thanks for the tapes and eight Elvis pictures, all autographed.”
A later chapter explains how RCA would discover Brandon's Tupelo’s tapes at Graceland... As People magazine reported on December 1984, “Joan Deary didn't find any skeletons in Elvis's Graceland closets, just a Record Bonanza”
Between 1962 and 1974 - when he started up the rather successful ‘Radio Music Report’ magazine - Brandon tells the stories of hard work, meeting loads of radio personalities and getting a successful time slot in multiple radio stations. Christmas Parades, his cow-novelty "Mooney", open-air broadcasts from a hot-tub and the horrors of being a Program Director are all included. He meets plenty of interesting characters along the way, both good and bad!
In New Orleans’ WNOE he came across a full-time production director who happened to be Marty Lacker!
There is a touching personal letter in the book that says,
“To Ron Brandon, we've come a long way from New Orleans! 17 years to be exact. Glad we’re friends and that ‘RMR’ is successful. You've earned it. Thanks for all your help. Your friend, Marty Lacker.”
Other stories are less rewarding - such as at WENZ Richmond.
“Never take a job, site unseen. Initially there was a downtown office with a secretary, but both the office and the lady disappeared within weeks. The studio itself was a literal ramshackle three rooms and a toilet. Equipment absolute minimal. Ugh”
.. even then he still managed to turn the station around and get it into the ratings surveys. However the creditors would soon appear.
In another chapter Brandon explains how the radio stations started putting on concert packages and how many great bands he got to see, including Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Monkees, Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Who, Neil Diamond, Buffalo Springfield etc.
He of course regrets never taping any of these concerts but is honest explaining "I was too occupied with ticket sales."
Ron Brandon Monkee-ing around!
Personal success really comes when he starts up ‘Radio Music Report’ magazine along with long- suffering future wife Deb! From the early stages in 1974 grossing only $15,000 and only breaking even, it grows to an influential radio magazine grossing over $1 million by 1979!
With it comes great stories of Atlanta RMR Conventions, hard partying and record company “hospitality suites.”
As a rival newspaper crazily reported, “The Cocaine’s in the Mason Jar and All’s Right with the Music World”
All this about a 1978 Atlanta convention that included Charlie Angel’s Cheryl Ladd performing her new single and the final treat of ‘The Paul Anka Las Vegas stage show’!
Hard working Ron Brandon hardly comes across as a wild drug taker, but media fans will be pleased to know that there is a chapter called, “Sex, Drugs and rock 'n' roll”.
As he honestly writes, “Everything you've seen or read about associated with the rock 'n' roll or radio business and sex is true. No need to embarrass both of us by repeating it here”
So luckily there is no debauchery that would shame anybody involved, although there is plenty of drinking, table dancing and being chased by cops while in a shiny new Cadillac Seville!
Later on we discover how he found Elvis “Mystery Kisser” Barbara Gray - and the trouble involved in actually getting the revelation published.
After the exhaustion of his and Deb’s continuous moving from radio station to radio station it was a pleasure to discover that they finally got married and lived “happily ever after”.
And Wolfman Jack does appear in the book! - with Deb and Ron Brandon on the right!
Near the end of the book Brandon delightfully writes..
“Is it a coincidence that I bumped in to Elvis in 1956 in Tupelo.. and over 50 years later discovered Elvis’ Mystery Kisser”? I don't have a clue. Just faded photographs stored long ago in now well-worn tattered cardboard boxes.”.
Overall Verdict: I really enjoyed this self-published book of a hard-won and well-deserved life in the entertainment business. There are so many points where you know that you would have just given up - but Ron Brandon keeps on going. As I stated earlier, I do work in the TV business so I can sympathise with his situations. On the other hand, living in Australia the names of most of these radio personalities mean little to me. Although there are plenty of photographs that explain the story along the way - and I certainly know names such as Rick Dees, Wolfman Jack, Alicia Bridges and others.
This book will really appeal to anybody who was ever involved in the US Radio industry between 1956 and 1990. Having said that, it is also great story of personal endeavour that will appeal to anybody with an interest in the hey-day of commercial radio, entertainment history and of course Ron Brandon's Elvis connections.
The book is self-published please go here to 'Ron Brandon Facebook page' for more information and to order.
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NOTE - You can contact Ron Brandon directly regarding the book via email firstname.lastname@example.org
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN March 2022
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
|Elvis' 1956 Mystery Kisser Found! Former Memphis radio engineer Ron Brandon believes that he has finally found the famous 1956 'Elvis Mystery Kisser'. In 1956 it was Ron Brandon who recorded the famous Mississippi-Alabama Fair concert and so was well aware of the iconic photographs of Alfred Wertheimer including the ones taken in June 1956 at an Elvis concert in Richmond, Virginia. There were over forty of the photos of Elvis many of them featuring an attractive young lady. One or two of these photographs, in particular, have become quite famous.. photos of Elvis apparently attempting to kiss the young lady.
In 2010, earlier this year Brandon "stumbled upon" the woman who claimed to be the mystery kisser in the photos. Having lived in Richmond at one time, Brandon was intrigued enough follow through with a full interview - and was convinced without any reservation whatever, that she is the mystery kisser.
This led to a phone-call with Mr. Wertheimer, Ron Brandon and the mystery kisser - which in the end was sworn to confidentiality....
Go here to the fascinating story of how Ron Brandon finally tracked her down. An EIN exclusive.
(Spotlight, Source;Ron Brandon/ElvisInfoNet)
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