If you’ve been around the site you’ve probably read my old piece on Bop. Not like that makes me any authority on Bop…the city or the man. I guess they asked me to write this because they felt like I’d dealt square with them before and they wanted an outside voice for a change. I’m no saint, and Bop’s no charity, but I refused to be paid for this. Rob and Angel said they wanted an essay, and I told them if they paid me it made it a commercial. Besides, if I didn’t get paid, I could make them run exactly what I wrote. So, you’ve probably visited at least once if you’re back this far. Maybe it’s only your first trip to Bop. First time on the Comet or the Flying V, the Volcano or the Awe Chute. First Fight Seentm between Wallop and the Living Beat, or first dinner at Camelot. Did you meet Doo Wop Duck, or the Witch Doctor, or the Iconoclast? You must have seen a Jesse—they’re everywhere. Cuban Jesse, movie Jesse—hell, maybe you met real Jesse.
It’s something, whether it’s your first trip here or your five-hundredth. I’ve been writing about music and musicians for 35 years, because I love it. I wrote my first, terrible review in middle school, about the best album I could ever imagine hearing: Hi Voltage’s ’74 Escape. It’s not a bad album, you know. I won’t say my tastes have matured, or evolved, or even changed—I’ve bought that album 6 times, one way or another. But as I grew older and realized there was more to music than three chords, a beat, and aggression, I also realized somebody out there likes almost everything. I can’t stand Corazon; I leave the room when it starts if I can’t turn it off. But I’ve interviewed those sisters three times, and I’ll tell you: some people love them more than air. And the band themselves are utterly devoted, sublime musicians, love a lot of the same things I do. Just went a direction I’m not into, but I’d never say that they aren’t great at what they do.
Bop City is like that, too. Everyone doesn’t like every part of it. I think that’s why Mr. Bop put so much into it while following his vision of what it could and should be. Some people have no use for theme parks, but you could live all your life here and ignore that aspect. Sam was never cynical or manipulative; he didn’t add anything to sate people who didn’t dig what he was laying down. Everything he did was for the glory and love of music he felt. The Wacky Boys studios and the Ranch were practical moves on his part and had a natural role here. He didn’t add Texasland and Caliland as any kind of sop; he saw the importance these regions and styles were having. Arrandem was a godsend for him. If he had been able to start Bop City the way he did Arrandem, I don’t know—can’t imagine—how the world might have been changed.
And how did Sam change the world (because he did, no question)? It’s easy enough to see that the Park changed things; no theme park had existed like it before, celebrating a single artform and welcoming everyone. That inclusiveness will stand as Bop’s greatest legacy—proving the viability and appeal of music its detractors denied. Without Sam and the Park keeping rock and roll in people’s minds it could have been the end by 1961, the music fading to an anomalous blip as MOR singers and easy-listening bands made life safe again. Would the folk explosion have happened? The British Invasion? The soul conversion? Possibly, but by creating a home for the music Sam declared its legitimacy and guaranteed its survival.
I don’t think any artform has ever had a cheerleader like Sam. And why? Why does popular music need a salesman? It’s there in the name—popular. People already like it.
I think Sam was afraid. With record-burnings, riots, airplay bans, cancelled concerts and blacklisted bands, and the disastrous year for music the year the Park opened—I think Sam believed it could all be wiped away. People like Sam and Adam Friehs would be squeezed into obscurity and the Hit Parade would trample the joyous noise Sam loved. After people learned about Amwerth’s Cassandra device, it made me rethink that, made me wonder if Sam was unwilling to put his faith in that technology or if something else drove him to pursue this living monument to music. You’d think a man with a machine that foretold the future would have some worries off his mind. But if anything Sam’s actions and plans seemed to defy what Amwerth told him. Of course, given the Big Change, that’s for the best, but surely Sam realized rock and roll was out of danger by then, and if anything he worked harder than ever.
So, why? What did Sam fear so that drove him to build a city on rock and roll, to prove rock and roll was here to stay? I don’t think I’ve ever met someone so devoted to music who did not play, sing, produce, write… his years as a DJ were as close to performing as Sam ever got. And honestly, for all his success in animation and film, he was not an artist or technician in those fields either.
What makes a man so devoted, obsessed with music? I’ve talked to the people who knew him best and longest, thinking I could assemble the puzzle. Angel Black, Burk Wise, Dr. Amwerth, Laura Kaempfe, Jesse Aron, Sam Soul, dozens of Sam’s confidants and acquaintances, hundreds, even thousands of people who passed through his life, thinking no piece would be too small to offer some insight. I audited and watched months of recordings Sam made looking for clues. Even my old ‘chauffeur,’ Billy Blue, offered his experiences with the man, and you know how hard it can be to get a word with Billy—or to distill the truth from it when you do.
So this was supposed to be an objective look at Sam, a bar-napkin analysis of what turned a California orphan into the most important figure in the preservation of American music in the 20th—and now the 21st—century. All I know is, if the Blues had a baby and they named it Rock and Roll, they must have left him in an orphanage in 1927. And we’re all forever lucky they did.