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Rockin’ brushes (02/18/2007)
From: Steve Cooker

Minnesota City, Minn.

Working in the La Crosse market had its privileges while on the radio as an air talent from the early eighties to the early nineties. Big city radio people had to claw through oceans of competitors to get access to recording artists and other celebrities. KWNO was good too, back when AM radio was still king.

My first celebrity interview was with tennis star Bobby Riggs at Gehren's Lounge in Winona with Rod Hurd (Rod was as big a personality as any of them) and Irwin Jacobs, the new owner of Grain Belt Beer sitting with us. I recorded it all while Rod eagerly challenged Bobby to a match, after the national power boat races on Lake Winona in the mid-seventies.

Dozens of interviews followed over the years. As a music director at a Billboard reporting station (that's a trade magazine known as the industry bible and benchmark for recording artists and record companies), we were in the top one hundred of seven thousand stations in the country with the second farthest reaching signal in Wisconsin. This status caused all major record companies to trip over themselves trying to please us, by sending us classy gifts to give to listeners as prizes, etc. My friend in the adjacent office, Emil McAndrew, would laugh when he heard our receptionist buzz me and say, "Cooker, so-and-so from CBS Records is on line one," or "Cooker, so-and-so from Warner Brothers is on line two." I would look sheepishly directly into Emil's eyes through the glass partition between our offices as if I was Cecil B. DeMille interviewing a starlet, and watch Emil explode. I always asked for interviews with their artists. Usually the next day the artist would call. I would record it then air it later. I saved most of them to back-up the male bovine waste, in years to come. Alan Jackson, Anne Murray, Ricky Skaggs, John Kay of Steppenwolf, members of the Byrds, Loggins and Messina, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, B.J. Thomas, Randy Travis, Eric Burden, Micky Dolenz, George Jones, Conway, Loretta, and dozens more. I was going out with a girl then when I mentioned that Marie Osmond called me that afternoon and we chatted for ten or fifteen minutes. Girl: "Marie Osmond?" Me: "Yea." Girl: "Marie Osmond?" Me: "Yea." Girl: "Donnie's sister?" Me: "Yea." Girl: "Theeee Marie Osmond?" Me: (I now motion in sign language..."Yes.") Girl: "Why would she call you?" Me: "She wanted to know if she could take your place." Me: "You don't believe me do you?" Girl: "How can I?" Me: "She called to promote her new record called Slowly But Surely."

That was eighteen years ago. I never talked to the girl again. Incidentally, I was too old to be a fan of Marie Osmond, however, she sure was nice to us when she came to the La Crosse Center. The girl never did get to see the photos, or Marie.

If Don Drysdale or Katheryn Hepburn sat across the table from me I couldn't be less interested. But when the "Association," who are still living off their six #1 and top 10 records, were at our table, I couldn't ask enough questions, or with Lynyrd Skynyrd.

My former colleague Dave Biesanz, who drives forklift in California and recently was voted California forklift driver of the year, and I, spent an entire evening backstage and took our girlfriends with us to their after-concert party at their hotel in October 1977, just ten days before their fatal plane crash. Dave couldn't stand them. They were a bunch of drunken southern hillbilly millionaires fighting and grappling like hyenas on a carcass. I loved them and every minute of it.

My friend Steve Rompa got me backstage with the Rolling Stones in ‘99 or 2000 at the Target Center in Minneapolis. I was face to face with them. I even was treated to watch the concert from a VIP section with two of Mick's daughters and one of Ron Woods. They would bump me and dance and twist and giggle like 10-year-olds. Several times Mick's daughter grabbed my hand and asked me to let her out. I haven't washed me hand since, mate.

One of my biggest thrills was when one of our sales reps from the radio station called my office and said, "Hey Cooker, I got somebody here that wants to meet you. Seriously, meet us at such and such. Trust me."

I walked in the business to see him standing there with, I know it sounds corny, but, with an aura surrounding him. I smiled from ear to ear, walked up with my hand out and stood face to face, toe to toe, eye to eye with him. I didn't know if I should genuflect or bow. There I was, with the man we'd all seen hundreds of times on television as a singer. None other than, "Max the Singing Jeweler."

"It had to be yyyyyooooouuuuu... It had to be yyyyyooooouuuuu...I wandered around and finally found somebody whooooooo...Hi folks...This is Max the Singing Jeweler." 


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