The year was 1964. The British Invasion was in full force and all over the world the time was right for dancing in the street. Rock ‘n roll was coming into its own and dispelling its image as the music of “degenerates.” Payola — the practice of paying money or offering gifts to DJs in exchange for playing certain records — was banned by the FCC after the Payola Scandal of 1959. As a result, payola had been greatly reduced by the mid-60s. Radio still had the power, but now it was in the hands of program directors instead of individual DJs.
Movies had been bringing top rock ‘n roll acts to the big screen for nearly a decade. Bill Haley and His Comets, Connie Francis, Elvis, of course, and many other popular acts of the day were given the movie star treatment. Television, now firmly established, especially in the households of Baby Boomer families, wanted in on the action. TV dipped its prime-time toe into the rock ‘n roll pool in 1957. Alan Freed, the influential Cleveland DJ and promoter often credited with coining the term rock ‘n roll, was given a prime-time TV show on ABC. The Big Beat was scheduled to run in the summer, with the provision that if it did well, the show would be renewed for the fall. Despite a steady rise in ratings, the show was abruptly cancelled after only four episodes. Rumor had it that TV executives heard from southern affiliates after Frankie Lymon was seen dancing with a white girl after performing his number, but no official explanation was forthcoming.
American Bandstand was was still going strong — just not in prime time. Rock acts regularly appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and other variety shows for nighttime family viewing, but there was no prime-time show that mainly featured rock ‘n roll music. When Hootenanny, a show dedicated to folk music of the late 1950s and early 1960s, lost ratings once the British Invasion hit our shores, ABC canceled the show and on September 16, 1964, replaced it with Shindig!, a weekly half-hour show devoted to a wider variety of increasingly popular music. Later the show became an hour long, then went back to half-hour episodes, but twice a week. The show ran until January of 1966, but became a huge influence on popular culture due in no small part to its prime-time pedigree.
The pilot episode of Shindig! was rejected by producers and reshot. This second episode was actually the first one aired. It starred Sam Cooke and The Righteous Brothers. Virtually every popular American or British band of the time were guests on the show, including The Who, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Bo Diddley, as well as James Brown, The Ronettes, The Supremes, Chuck Berry, Sonny and Cher, Lesley Gore and many, many others. Shindig! became influential in pop culture for other reasons, too. Each week, the show’s regular dance troupe performed. Mister B recalls the mod, short dresses and white vinyl go-go boots of the Shin-diggers. One of the featured Shin-diggers dancers was Teri Garr, who later went on to movie stardom in films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Young Frankenstein (1974). An assistant choreographer for the Shin-diggers was Toni Basel, who had a hit song of her own — Mickey — in 1982.
The show’s house band, also called the Shin-diggers, but later renamed the Shindogs, featured young performers destined for stardom on their own as well. Band members included Glenn Campbell, Billy Preston and Leon Russell, among others. Jackie DeShannon and Bobby Sherman were often brought in for vocals.
Mister Boomer remembers watching the show on the family’s black & white TV. His father seemed to enjoy the Shin-diggers as much as Mister B, while a steady stream of popular acts could be seen performing their biggest hits and soon-to-be hits. For Mister B’s family, it became regular viewing on Thursday and Saturday nights.
Not wanting to be outdone by ABC, NBC got into the game with Hullabaloo in 1965. If imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, Hullabaloo was the most sincere program on the air. These shows spawned later forays such as Hollywood-A-Go-Go. Meanwhile, in daytime rock ‘n roll TV, American Bandstand was king of the hill, so Dick Clark created a spin-off in 1965. Where the Action Is! became popular with boomers when it ran in the after school timeslot, after American Bandstand. Paul Revere & the Raiders were the house band for this show, which regularly aired from outside locations like ski resorts and beaches.
Mister Boomer and his siblings watched as many of these shows as they were allowed to. Fortunately, his parents liked popular music. Mister B recalls how Brother Boomer bought 45s for his mother as well as himself. She asked for songs by The Righteous Brothers and the Mamas & the Papas, and even liked The Beatles and Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones.
Mister B feels fortunate to have seen so many of the greats of the 1960s on the music television programs of his day. They were shows very much of their era, but they showed us true stars performing music that continues to remain popular decades later.
What do you remember about Shindig!, boomers? Did you watch Hullabaloo, too?