It was 1945 in Acuña; Sam was working at radio station XION and I was traveling with my uncle selling baby chicks from his farm. He and Sam made a deal and they both became rich from those chicks. It wasn’t the last time Sam got rich either, but I’ll get to that.
It was May 19, warm and steamy. My uncle had a nice car, but no air conditioning then, and colored folk weren’t often welcome to stop for cool air…or anything else. When we entered the radio station, it looked like a madman’s cell. Sam would announce the records and do the sales pitches, work the phone and make deals, answer the door and settle in guests…he worked ten-hour shifts every day on the air and another three or four hours on the phones. He was heard all over the States and Mexico, clear to Canada and almost to Europe. And he was wearing himself out. Seeing this, and knowing how successful Sam was, my uncle made Sam a deal. He had Sam hire me for a cut of the chicken money; as long as the chicks sold, my salary was paid. I would stay as Sam’s assistant: answering phones, setting up interviews, eventually even running the board for him at times.
I suppose that was when people first started to think of Sam and me as a couple, but we weren’t. In fact, we never were, much to the surprise of most people. Two people don’t usually work closely together for almost 40 years without something developing, but Sam was different. He was totally devoted to the music, and would do whatever it took to see it survive and prosper. Everything else–the cartoons, the movies, even the Park and city–was ancillary for him, as long as it served the music.
That day was special for a lot of reasons, actually. I joined Sam, but he really wasn’t alone. Dr. Amwerth was with him, like he had been since that day on the ship. I think I’ll get one of Sam’s Navy buddies to tell that one. But another old friend–a Navy friend–also joined Sam that day. Not as close to him physically as I was, because he was on his way to California, but Burk Wise was as close to Sam in business as anyone would ever be.
I was worried when I agreed to provide this column for BAD CO. that people would grow bored with my memories. Then I recalled: Sam Bop has been called the World’s Most Recorded Man. From the time he could afford it, Sam made recordings of his conversations, meetings, even informal strolls through the park or elsewhere. It’s why so many revelatory documentaries exist about Sam and the Park. Then I thought: Sam was always transparent about those recordings and the Park loves to release them to allow more insight into its past. Why not integrate them into these logs so you, the reader, get a better sense of Sam and those in his world? So whenever they’re available I’ll transcribe those tapes appropriate to the story and you can be right there with us.
I promised to tell you about what else happened the day I came to work for Sam. Burk Wise, another Navy friend of Sam’s, had come to show Sam what he had been doing since the war. He had been developing animated cartoons even while he was in the service, like Ted Siegel or Sparky Brown. Now that he was out he was on his way to Hollywood to sign contracts. He and Sam had been close and he wanted to offer Sam a role in the new business. Sam knew very little then about that kind of entertainment, but he had helped Burk get on his feet and both men knew they wanted to maintain a business relationship. Sam gave Burk $5000 to help cover his expenses getting across the country and setting up in California, and they signed an agreement giving Sam a half-interest in the new business. As much as Sam believed in his friend, he never expected the Wacky Boys to become the most successful animation and, later, film production house in the world.
Burk’s first short, Manic Melody, was released that fall and was an immediate smash. It featured Hillbilly Cat, a seemingly slow-witted gray cat who reliably got the better of any situation (sort of like Burk himself, now that I think of it.) In Melody, ‘Billy was hired to sweep up a theatre. The piano player arrived for work drunk and ‘Billy changed clothes with him, stuffed him in a closet, and played his shift. The audience loved him and demanded the owner keep him. The owner was outraged and threw ‘Billy out. It turned out the piano player was the owner’s nephew and the owner’s wife pummeled him with an umbrella for 1) letting her nephew get drunk and 2) letting him be locked in a closet. The owner had to retain his nephew-in-law, while ‘Billy took a job playing piano across the street at his competitor’s theatre. The audience, of course, abandoned the first theatre en masse and the short closed on ‘Billy pounding the piano with a giddy smile while money rained around him.
It was a new kind of madcap cartoon, and more importantly featured the kind of music Sam had championed in the service when Burk met him: a raucous, rhythm-driven dance beat with a playful melody on top. Anthony Chess would have recognized it instantly, and in fact the Wacky Boys would produce promotional films for him and many other rock and roll pioneers in the next decade.