Last night, I got a text from Peter Schmidt, who could not believe I've never written about a short-lived 1966 TV show called The !!!! Beat, hosted by iconic Nashville deejay Bill "Hoss" Allen. Wrote Peter, who'd come across it yesterday after a lunchtime discussion about Etta James turned up an extraordinary clip from the series, "Turns out the show was filmed at WFAA because Nashville had no color TV facilities."
Oh, right -- that's the show from which we used to pull Freddie King videos whenever they'd show up on YouTube. Which was but a tip of the tip of the iceberg: The series was shot on film and nationally syndicated (it debuted on WAII in Atlanta, for instance, on May 7, 1966), aired for 26 episodes and featured everyone from Otis Redding to Archie Bell and the Drells to Joe Tex to Louis Jordan, and featured no less than Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and David "Fathead" Newman in the house band.
"And if you watch the show in order, Gatemouth begins with a beat-to-shit guitar ... and then a little bit into the show he gets a new guitar, so it looks better," says George Gimarc, who, but of course, is a student of the show. "When you have him trading licks with Freddie King, oh my God. And to see Little Gary Ferguson, who was Michael Jackson before Michael Jackson, and Barbara Lynn, who you forget played guitar." The first episode was shot on January 31, 1966; the next nine, during the first two weeks of February, many on the same day. Best Gimarc can tell, through his own research and chats with former WFAA cameramen, though The !!!! Beat was shot here, it never aired in Dallas.
But unlike WFAA's legendary Ron Chapman-hosted Sump'n Else, which aired locally from '65 till '68 and saw most of its footage erased almost immediately after broadcast, The !!!! Beat goes on: In 2005 German-based Bear Family released six volumes' worth of broadcasts, in addition to a CD compilation featuring some of the show's lesser-knowns. (Amazon has the DVDs too, at a higher price tag.) According to Gimarc, for decades the show was thought to be lost -- till, that is, Willie Nelson began going through and selling off his personal belongings when he had the taxman breathing down his neck in the early '90s. Rumor is, the entire collection was in his possession.
In his 2000 book Station to Station: The History of Rock 'n' Roll on Television, Marc Weingarten noted its point of origin ("nationally syndicated from Dallas, Texas") and calls it "far and away the quirkiest and coolest R&B-driven television show of the decade." Which had everything to do with Allen, who, as Chet Flippo pointed out in his 1997 obituary for Billboard, began late-night broadcasting blues and R&B as early as the 1940s, introducing white audiences to the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, James Brown and Ray Charles.
Allen hosted all but the final episode: Legend has it he was so distraught over its cancellation he fell into a bottle and couldn't make it to say farewell. Which is why Otis Redding is seen below hosting an episode -- the final one, which appears to have been shot in October '66. Yes, Otis Redding hosted a show taped at WFAA.
"It's an amazing grab bag of who was on the road and in the area" at the time, says Gimarc. But it wasn't just national acts who made the show: Among those making an appearance were The Dolls, a girl group of out Waco whose single "The Reason Why" was released on the tiny Loma Records label.
Here you'll find reviews of five of the six discs. And here's a YouTube channel that aggregates many of the best performances, some of which I've highlighted below. And there are many more scattered all over YouTube. The rabbit hole is deep, and its rewards are plentiful.