Buying Whores for Chuck Berry and a Threat from Jerry Lee Lewis

Buying Whores for Chuck Berry and a Threat from Jerry Lee Lewis

By David Himmel

The following is an excerpt from The Last DJ, now available. For the complete experience, listen to the book’s soundtrack here while you read.


WEEKENDS AT THE STATION REQUIRED A THEME. For example, during the Oscars, we’d spotlight songs featured on movie soundtracks like Lulu’s “To Sir with Love” from the movie of the same name or Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” from The Graduate. Grammy weekend spotlighted Grammy-winning songs: “Up, Up and Away” by The 5th Dimension and “It’s Too Late” by Carole King. Mother’s Day had songs about moms or featured girl groups like The Marvelettes and The Shangri-Las. If there was no holiday or event to celebrate, we’d do twin spins—playing songs by the same artist back-to-back, or my favorite kind of treat, the same song performed by different artists, like “Walk Away Renée” by The Left Banke and then The Four Tops—or spotlight a big artist who was having a birthday. We found a way to make things relevant. The Fourth of July was always Founding Fathers of Rock ’n’ Roll Weekend.

Elvis Presley. Chuck Berry. Little Richard. Jerry Lee Lewis. Those are rock’s founding fathers. And since Elvis was dead, we only had to get the other three together to play the big summer concert the station was producing. “KOOL 93.1 presents a Founding Fathers of Rock ’n’ Roll Concert featuring: Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis! Live at the Orleans Arena, Saturday, July fifth!” It was the first time in history that all three shared the bill. 

My main gig at the time was being the marketing director. By now, KOOL was in the top-five–ranked stations in Las Vegas, thanks to our hard work. It was a rarity for oldies stations to crack the top ten. But like I said, we were making damn good radio. Hot Rod was a programming and marketing genius. And our ability to create events like the Founding Fathers concert was a part of what made our radio worth listening to.

My office had once been a broom closet, about five feet deep and six feet wide. It was stuffed to the ceiling with files, standard office supplies, a clunky desktop computer that hated connecting to the printer, radio station swag, an empty mini keg of Hofbräuhaus beer and photos of me with some of the celebrities I’d met and/or interviewed; Barry Williams (Greg Brady from The Brady Bunch), Tony Orlando, my beloved Mary Wilson, The Beach Boys, Ray Charles, a certain yet-to-be-discovered child molester known for pitching popular gut-rot sandwiches. 

I should quickly tell you about my encounter with Jared Fogle. At the height of Fogle’s fame, he showed up at the station one afternoon. Subway had deployed him on a media tour to promote the health benefits of a Subway diet. I met him in the lobby while he was waiting for an intern from Sunny to find him headphones. Why he needed headphones was beyond me because guests don’t necessarily need headphones, but Fogle refused to step into a studio until he had a pair of headphones. I learned of this as I introduced myself and offered to lend him mine. I ran to my office and grabbed them. As he awkwardly fidgeted with them, sizing them to his head, I made small talk.

“So, Jared. You used to be a pretty big, fat guy.” “Yeah,” he said.

“As you can see, I’m pretty thin.” “Yeah.”

“What would you suggest I eat if I wanted to pack on a few pounds?”

“What?” 

“Well, what did you eat that made you such a huge, fat guy? I want some of that.” He looked at me as if I’d just called his mother a gutted cock wallet while stabbing her in the throat. Sure, it wasn’t the nicest small talk I’d ever made, but I was trying to have fun with the guy. Here he was, rich and famous and making a living by talking about Subway sandwiches and how he used to be a fat ass and now, no longer was. I figured he had to have a sense of humor about it and so I thought my question was totally fair and reasonable, considering that we both had weight issues, just issues on the opposite ends of the scale. He did not have a sense of humor about it and did not think my question was fair. But Jan, our receptionist did and so did Fogle’s PR girl standing next to him. I let the discomfort linger with their chuckles before walking him back to the Sunny studio for his first interview. I then ducked into the KOOL studio and suggested that T.J. ask Jared about his diet before he lost the weight. When T.J. asked, there was more awkward silence, which wasn’t the way we usually treated on-air guests, but it was pretty damn funny. While I feel for his victims, I take immense pleasure knowing that Fogle is rotting in prison, hopefully gaining back all of that weight.

But as I was saying…

My cramped office was across the hall from Hot Rod’s, which was far more spacious yet still stuffed with KOOL swag, swag from stations where he used to work, photos of his family, double the celebrity photos I had, a mini fridge with chilled beer, award and recognition plaques, and a stereo that constantly played KOOL 93.1 so he never missed a second of his programming. 

A few weeks before the July 5 concert, Hot Rod made the short walk to my office. He would usually just holler my name, but I had my door closed because I was on the phone fighting with Allison even though she was in her office next to Hot Rod’s, across from mine. Our relationship was holding steady at the point of destructive workplace behavior, like having closed-door phone fights from across the hall. Hot Rod knocked on my door.

“Yo, Doc! Open up, man.”

“We’ll finish this at lunch,” I said to Allison before hanging up on her and opening the door.

“Why bother?” Hot Rod said. “We can all hear you. Just keep the doors open. Don’t make us work so hard.”

“What’s up?” I asked, respectfully annoyed.

He was leaning against the door frame holding some kind of contract in his hand waving it around in a look-and- see-what-I-got kind of way. “You ever had to read through a rider?” he asked.

“No.”

“Well, you’re gonna need to. This is Chuck Berry’s. Come on.”

He handed me the rider as we took the five steps back to his office. He sat behind his desk and leaned back in his eight-hundred-dollar ergonomic chair he’d received in trade for providing testimonials in on-air ads for the company. (Payment in trade was not uncommon, and Hot Rod reveled in it. It’s how he got the pool built in his backyard and hair replacement surgery. Trade, swag and prizes helped offset the crappy salaries radio paid. I landed myself a nice Weber grill, a Panasonic DVD player and a trip to Hawaii as a result.) He cranked up the stereo. It was his shift. He had voicetracked it earlier that day. I plopped down on the old couch across from his desk and began reading.

Most riders were standard. They listed the needs of  the performer, like transportation and accommodations, and specifics on their backline—amps and monitors and such. Often there’d be requests for a certain kind of bottled water to be present in the green room. The more finicky performers listed green room temperature settings.

I came to the part that I knew Hot Rod had come to see me about. “Um. Is this real?”

“It most certainly is.”

 “Two big-breasted, blond women.” “Yep.”

“Evian Water, that’s no problem, but two big-breasted, blond women? How are we supposed to provide this?”

 “You know any cute college girls who want to make a few bucks?”

I had graduated two years earlier and knew plenty of attractive women who fit the description. None of them would be up for whatever Chuck Berry had in mind, regardless of the pay. And I wasn’t about to use my social capital asking any of them, so I said, “Probably not.”

“Okay then. Here.” Hot Rod pulled his wallet from one of the desk drawers and handed me the company American Express. “Go to Pahrump and buy two hookers.”

“You’re joking.”

“Better get going. You’re bound to hit traffic. And make sure they can provide their own transportation.”

“It might cost extra.”

“That’s why I gave you the company card.” Allison’s office door was still closed. I knocked. “Come in. Oh. It’s you.” 

“Listen, I have to cancel our lunch date.”

“Figures. Why?” 

“I have to go out to Pahrump this afternoon.”

“Why do you have to go to Pahrump this afternoon?” “It’s the closest place where you can legally buy hookers.”

“Oh! So we have one little fight this morning, and now you’re going to go buy hookers?”

“They’re not for me. They’re for Chuck Berry.”

“Right. Good one, David. Real smooth. Just get out and go. Enjoy your whores.”

“I don’t think they like being called that.” “Get out. And close the door when you leave.”

PROSTITUTION IS ILEGAL IN LAS VEGAS and throughout Clark County, but beyond, it’s a booming, tax-generating, safe, and regulated business. Pahrump sits just over the edge of Clark in Nye County. I pulled into The Honey Ranch. The year before, Honey’s had done a massive remodeling, and I orchestrated an on-air promotion with the brothel. Listeners could win memorabilia from Honey’s and qualify for a chance to win an all-inclusive paid weekend experience at The New Honey Ranch. Honey’s wasn’t just a place for hooker banging. It was a sprawling resort. It had a bar, tennis courts, a pool  and a full spa. Everyone knew what the real purpose and  the bread and butter of this brothel was: Sex. The resort and spa stuff were pure marketing. And that made it easy for a family-friendly oldies radio station to promote it on-air while giving away old plastic-covered love seats that had witnessed more a la carte erotica than even the most perverted Vegas sex junkies could imagine.

If you want to witness impeccable customer relations, rent women from a Nevada brothel. Buying a sweater at Banana Republic is more complicated than leasing out two humans at Honey’s. Everyone was, of course, smiling and friendly. I was made to feel like the most important person to ever walk through the doors. I told the madam who I was and what I needed.

You’re Dr. Dave Maxwell!? I pictured you older and fatter,” Madam Maureen said.

 “Yeah, I get that a lot.”

 “We love your station and listen to it all the time. It’s probably playing in the bar right now. Come on, I’ll take you there. I’ll even buy you a drink.”

“Thank you, Maureen, but I really can’t stay. I just need to hire two of your best girls. Blond with large breasts.”

“Dr. Dave… you young ones are all about getting down to business. You ought to take some time to enjoy yourself.”

“Really, I have to—”

“Okay then. Let’s go have a look at our girls.”

Madam Maureen flipped through the schedule to find those who would be available for the concert. She summoned the girls through an intercom system in the way a McDonald’s cashier calls out your order. A few moments later there were six young, lingerie-clad women standing before me. She asked the girls to walk, pivot, turn. I would have felt guilty that they were being presented like prize livestock at a 4H competition except that this was their chosen profession, and this was how they made their money, and they were earning a decent buck, too. This was the furthest thing from the grimy and violent sex trade in dark back alleys and Thailand.

“Pick your two,” Madam Maureen instructed. I made my choice, Dakota and Candace.

As Madam Maureen finalized the transaction, she asked me, “What’s this for again?”

“Our Founding Fathers of Rock ’n’ Roll Concert. Chuck Berry requested two big-breasted, blond women.”

“Oh, that’s right! I would love to go to that concert.” “You know what? I know a guy. I think I can hook you

up. Will you provide their transportation there if I do?”

“Depends on how good the seats are.”

I smiled at her and signed Hot Rod’s name to the credit card receipt, waved farewell to Dakota and Candace and drove back to town, hoping that Chuck Berry would behave himself and that I hadn’t done a terrible thing.

BY THE TIME JULY 5 ROLLED AROUND, the show had sold out. I was able to get Madam Maureen two tickets, but they were nosebleed—we had to pay for the transportation. Loading in that day was exciting as the three legends and their entourages milled about the stage and the back hallways of the Orleans Arena. I was wearing my KOOL 93.1 staff polo with “Dr. Dave” embroidered on the right breast, so I was often stopped and asked a question or given a request by a manager or a roadie.

“You work for the radio station?” The man looked brittle, his skin blueish pale. There were two men on either side of him, each holding one of his arms to keep him steady and upright. They couldn’t have been much younger than he was, though they looked it. His Southern accent was soft and reminded me of my grandfather’s Memphis drawl. I was standing face-to-face with Jerry Lee Lewis.

“You work for the radio station?” he asked again.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Lewis. I’m Dr. Dave Maxwell. What can I help you with?” Little Richard walked past us, and he,  too, looked frail and worn down. The Killer glared at him as he passed. The Innovator didn’t seem to notice. Jerry Lee turned his gaze back at me, his eyes smaller now, his face taut with rage.

“Can you do me a favor, boy?”

“Of course.” 

“Don’t let that niggah touch my pianah.” He and his two men went on their way.

Fear replaced my awe. Trying to reconcile what Jerry Lee Lewis had just said to me, I barely heard Chuck Berry calling out my name from inside his dressing room.

“Hey! Dr. Dave!”

I doubled back and poked my head in. He was lounging on the small leather couch like a king with his spoils: Dakota on one side of him, Candace on the other. They smiled and waved at me. I smiled back. At least, I think I did. “Don’t let that niggah touch my pianah” was the only thing my brain could digest at that particular moment.

“You’re Dr. Dave, right?”

“Uh, yessir.”

“I was told that you handpicked these two beauties out for me.”

“Yessir.”

“Hell of a job, young man. Hell of a job. See you on stage.”

✶ 

THEY PUT ON AN INCREDIBLE SHOW. Both Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard came alive once  the lights hit them—each with their own piano. It was like it was 1958 again. Jerry Lee kicked the piano stool back during “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Little Richard was funny, sassy and hit those woos with astounding accuracy. Chuck Berry even managed a duck walk during “Maybellene.” I watched from the wings with the rest of the station staff and Dakota and Candace.

“He’s a really nice man,” Candace said to me.

“I’m relieved to hear that,” I said. “Hiring you for him felt a little awkward.”

She smiled. She understood. She turned her body toward me, still smiling. I thought for a second that she wanted me to kiss her.

“We always work our hardest to make sure the customer has a nice time,” Candace said. “We always give a little bit… extra.”

Dakota, who had been engaged in the show, broke her focus and joined Candace in the smiley, busty standoff with me. And then I realized that they didn’t want to be kissed. They wanted to be tipped.

“Oh, uh, hang on,” I said as I searched my pockets. I didn’t have much. Just a small stack of ten-dollar gift cards to Jersey Mike’s Subs. I had lifted them from the station’s prize cabinet and had been doling them out randomly to attendees throughout the show. With the grace of an arthritic magician, I divided the small stack into two and gave one to Dakota and the other to Candace. They looked at me, puzzled. I proclaimed, “The radio station—rock ’n’ roll—thanks you for your service.”


The Last DJ Cover.jpg

A punchy behind-the-scenes look at the beginning of the end of the radio we had come to love. The Last DJ reveals the drama behind the voices that deliver our favorite songs and what happens in the DJ booth when the microphones are turned off and the smooth talking stops.

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