55 Years Ago: ‘Shindig!’ Ushers in ‘Flat-Out, Ass-Kickin’ Rock ‘n’ Roll’ TV
Shindig!, TV's first prime-time rock music show, premiered on ABC on Sept. 16, 1964, and was later expanded to an hour in January 1965. The brainchild of British TV producer Jack Good, the energetic half-hour's instant success spawned a raft of imitators – including Hullabaloo, Shivaree and Hollywood A Go-Go.
Along the way, Shindig! and host Jimmy O'Neill, an L.A. disc jockey, showcased the cream of ‘60s rock, from the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys to the Animals, Kinks and the Byrds. Soul and R&B stars Aretha Franklin, Ike & Tina Turner, the Supremes and the Temptations joined early rock legends like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, as well.
Teen idol Bobby Sherman got his start on Shindig!, one of a core group of singers and dancers that appeared each week. Musical tracks were performed by the show's house band, the Shin-diggers, later known as the Shindogs. Future stars Leon Russell, Glen Campbell and Billy Preston passed through the Shindogs' ranks.
Good, a fan of hard-edged rock, squabbled with ABC throughout the show’s run and left in mid-1965. The final episode of ‘Shindig!’ aired Jan. 8, 1966, the victim of poor ratings. To celebrate Shindig!, Ultimate Classic Rock talked with vocalists Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers; Donna Loren; Darlene Love of the Blossoms; and George Patterson of the Wellingtons. Toni Basil, then an assistant choreographer; and Glen D. Hardin, the pianist of the Shindogs, helped complete this oral history ...
Watch the Beach Boys Perform 'Dance Dance Dance' on 'Shindig!'
TONI BASIL: This was Jack Good’s baby. Before Jack Good put Shindig! on the air, there was no connection to pop culture. Everybody was mind-blowing, whether it was Tina Turner or Jeff Beck or Donovan, it was quite an eclectic group of people and performers that Jack Good put together.
BILL MEDLEY: He was great, man. I loved the show so much because it was such a fast-moving, hard-paced, ass-kickin’ show. I think Jack Good was a very, very bright guy. He knew the show had to have all that balls in it, but he was smart enough to know that it was still ABC television. The band was stupid good. They were just unbelievable. Billy Preston, Leon Russell – these are the real guys. Larry Knechtel was playing bass on the show, and he was one of the great piano players. James Burton was in the Shindogs. I mean, those are guys that you’re still hearing about today. I think that was the greatest thing about Shindig! It was legitimate rock ‘n’ roll and in those days you didn’t get a lot of that. It was just flat-out, honest, ass-kickin’ rock ‘n’ roll. And go figure, it took some guy from England to come over and show Americans how to do what they learned from us. And those dancers. My God, I learned in a heartbeat my respect for the dancers. They were just so professional and they were so good and they had more to learn than anybody. We very rarely stopped and those dancers would be running to change those costumes and stuff, they just worked their rear ends off.
TONI BASIL: I came in as the assistant choreographer to David Winters. I think that they found us because we probably were the only choreographers and dancers that could cross over from the jazz dance period into the go-go period. We were the moving props. We decided very early that it was too much to choreograph every part of every single number. So what we had them do was specifically say when they wanted the dancers – in what shot, in what part of the song. And that enabled us to choreograph sections of songs, not the whole song. It enabled us to do more songs that way. It was a picnic, are you kidding? There were all these fabulous young guys with talent, meeting up with these girls that were actually not groupies, more on their level, in the business. It was a great merger of social events. But don’t forget, they were only in for a week and they were out. And then there was another group.
Watch the Rolling Stones Perform 'Satisfaction' on 'Shindig!'
DARLENE LOVE: All of the music was prerecorded. The background singers were lip-synching. The only thing that wasn’t prerecorded were the lead voices. Mick Jagger was singing live. Aretha Franklin was singing live to her track. I tell people all the time, the best way to do a lip-synch is to learn the song and sing live with it. Our other little trick is they had cue cards! (Laughs) Because it’s almost impossible to learn seven or eight songs in one week and make it look like you’re actually singing it. The reason most people didn’t know it was prerecorded was because the Shindogs were on the stage playing live.
GLEN D. HARDIN: We would look like we were playing, but what we were playing wasn’t being picked up and sent out on the airwaves. I was playing a little Italian organ called a Farfisa. I would use a real piano to record with, of course. The little Farfisa made it possible to squeeze us in tighter together and keep all four of us in the picture.
GEORGE PATTERSON: The genius of all this was that they never went into a show not knowing exactly how long it was going to be. Because they had all the tracks.
DARLENE LOVE: It was like a madhouse. But for some reason, when it was time for taping, everything went just like clockwork.
Watch the Kinks Perform 'You Really Got Me' on 'Shindig!'
GLEN D. HARDIN: Before the show would start, Jack would warm up the audience. He had this sparkle in his eye and a sparkle in his voice. He was hilarious, and he’d get that audience all pumped up. So, when we’d kick off the show and the cameras came on, the audience would be howling.
DONNA LOREN: I was mooned by the Kinks. I’m just a 17-year-old girl, hangin’ out backstage doing my thing. And I always had supervision and a chaperone. I remember I had invited a girlfriend from high school to visit me on set. And we were walking down the hallway and there it was. (Laughs) I don’t know who it was, but just the backside of one of the Kinks.
BILL MEDLEY: We had hit with "Little Latin Lupe Lu" and "Koko Joe," and Elvis Presley became a – I don’t want to say a fan, but a friend early on. And he would come to a lot of our shows when he was free. He loved the fact that we sounded black, and that’s kind of what he wanted to do. We get on the show thinking, "OK, man, we’re gonna start doin’ some new stuff and about every week Elvis would have his people call Shindig! and say 'Have the Righteous Brothers do ‘Little Latin Lupe Lu’ or ‘Koko Joe’ again."' So, every week they would come into our dressing room and say, "We need you to do ‘Koko Joe’ or ‘Little Latin Lupe Lu.’" What they were doing obviously was trying to get Elvis on the show. They were using us as bait, I guess. They never did get Elvis on.
GLEN D. HARDIN: I especially enjoyed Ike & Tina Turner. Tina was very quiet, though. She didn’t talk to anybody, and it was because Ike was so much in control of her. He didn’t want her talkin’ to them white boys, you know. He wanted to be a gangster. Although I liked him real well. He always seemed to know what he wanted so that made it pretty easy.
Watch the Righteous Brothers Perform ‘Little Latin Lupe Lu’ on 'Shindig!'
GEORGE PATTERSON: I think a sad story for me was watching Johnny Cash perform. He was in a big production number wearing the iconic black coat, and he was so loaded. They had him way up on top of some platform, and I remember getting him up on this stage was an adventure. He was so loaded and the band was trying to figure out what the hell he was doing, so they could back him. He couldn’t keep the meter and he was just totally stoned and lost. I remember seeing that and feeling despair.
DARLENE LOVE: We had already been told by Jack Good that the network didn’t want the Blossoms on that show, because we were black. Nobody knew this. This was 1964. They didn’t feel that the audience would accept a black group on a television show every week in their homes, that’s the way they put it. Especially in the South. Jack Good told them, 'Well, if you don’t want my girls, then we’ll take the show somewhere else.'
BILL MEDLEY: When we were doing the show, we insisted on doing a song with the Blossoms – because we thought they were just unbelievable, and they weren’t really being featured. So Bobby and I said we want to do a featured song with the Blossoms. And we did "Night Time Is the Right Time" by Ray Charles.
DARLENE LOVE: What was great about Jack Good, he didn’t stuff it down their throats. He was wise enough to know what the problem was with black and white. So he gave it to them little by little. By the third month, they didn’t care. (Laughs) I can remember one show that we did had so many black people on it, the network said, “My God, can’t you find one white act this week?” (Laughs) It was Chubby Checker, Sam Cooke, the gospel singing group the Clara Ward Singers – and then, you know, they always had to count the Blossoms, ‘cause we were black. We went into the dressing room, and we’d be laughing: “Child, you think they're gonna put this out? There’s a lot of us on this week.”
Watch Roy Orbison Perform 'Oh, Pretty Woman' on 'Shindig!'
TONI BASIL: If you think about it, you never saw anything like that until then. I don’t think ever on television did an audience see that many black acts and black singers in one show at one time. So you might say there were some racial divides, but simultaneously there were racial strides being made.
DARLENE LOVE: Bill Medley and the Blossoms were always good friends. When we started working together with the Righteous Brothers out on the road, Bill Medley and I ended up having a relationship – which was the weirdest thing on the planet. Bill and his wife had broken up, and my husband and I had broken up by the time we went on the road. One night we just looked up and we were together. (Laughs) We thought, “You and me? Are you kidding? You ain’t even my type, but I sure ain’t yours!” The Righteous Brothers were just starting out, they had this big hit and there was enough controversy with them being blue-eyed soul brothers without saying, now here’s a soul sister! (Laughs) Thank God the paparazzi weren’t like they are today. The Shindig! people told us they had gotten mail and somebody sensed that something might be going on between Darlene Love and Bill Medley. The network said, "We’re just going to ignore it, because if we have something to say about it, then they’ll keep on with it."
GLEN D. HARDIN: ABC gave Jack a lot of crap about all kinds of things – like the dancing girls that were on there, they couldn’t show too much leg. They always had a network guy there and he would step out and say, "That’s a little risque, don’t do that." And it would be something you wouldn’t really notice. And it just drove Jack up the wall. Finally, he said, "I quit." After Jack left, it went to nowhere. They got a new producer, and it immediately went down the tubes and that was the end of it. And it was the network’s fault.