Rick Dees & His Cast of Idiots
any artists with number one songs to their credit have been employed in radio, but Rick Dees managed to top the Hot 100 while he was a full-time working disc jockey. By 1988, he was handling the morning drive on KIIS-FM in Los Angeles, at the time the number one station in the market and the second most-listened to radio station in the United States. Back in the days of "Disco Duck," he was the morning man at WMPS in Memphis.
"I was working out in a gym in Memphis when disco was coming out, and I also worked in a club called Chesterfield's telling jokes and spinning records," says Dees. "The more I played the songs, the more I knew it might be time for a disco parody. One of the guys who worked out in the gym did a great duck voice, and I remembered a song called 'The Duck' (by Jackie Lee) back in the '60s, so I said, how about 'Disco Duck'?
Dees recorded his tune for Fretone Records, a local Memphis label owned by Estelle Axton, one of the founders of Stax Records. Dees had already released a single on Fretone, "The National Wet-Off," that had sunk without a trace. But "Disco Duck" really got down -- starting in Birmingham, Alabama. As it spread throughout the South, Dees flew to Hollywood to sell the record to a major label.
"We talked to everybody in the business, and everybody passed on the song, except Al Coury (president of RSO Records). He said, 'Let me take it home and play it for my kids.'" They laughed at the song and Coury leased it for $3,500.
The record became a national hit, played everywhere except for Memphis. Rival stations wouldn't play it, for fear of promoting their competition. And Dees was forbidden to play the record on his own station. "I talked about it on my morning radio show, and the station manager came in and said, 'We think that's a conflict of interest. You're fired!'" Dees wasn't out of work long -- he was hired by the station's prime competitor, WHBQ-AM, owned by the RKO radio chain. In the spring of 1979, Dees was transferred to RKO's station in Los Angeles, KHJ. He remained there until the station switched to a country format, then was hired by KIIS. Aided by his wife Julie McWhirter Dees, an accomplished comedienne and voice-over actress with numerous credits, and a new cast of idiots, Dees turned KIIS-FM into the #1 revenue generating radio station in America.
Looking back on the national success of "Disco Duck," Dees says he was not surprised at how well the record sold. "I didn't know anything about the record business. I just thought you put out a song and it becomes a hit. Because of my being naive at the time, I thought it was gonna be a smash. Knowing what I know today, it's so hard to become number one. It takes a lot of luck and a lot of praying and a lot of good promotion people, plus a good song. I had no idea all those elements had to work in concert."
The follow-up to "Disco Duck" was inspired by the release of Dino DeLaurentis' re-make of King Kong, starring Jessica Lange. "Dis-Gorilla" went to number 56. A satire of Barry White, "Barely White," missed the Hot 100 but was popular in southern California. At the end of 1984, Dees returned to the chart with a single on Atlantic Records, "Get Nekked."
Born Rigdon Osmond Dees III in Memphis, the popular disc jockey hosted one season of the weekly television series Solid Gold, and his #1 internationally syndicated radio show, The Rick Dees Weekly Top 40, is heard each weekend by more than 70 million people around the world. His numerous broadcasting accolades include the Billboard Radio Personality Of The Year (ten years in a row), the Marconi Award, the National Radio Hall Of Fame, and his induction into the National Association Of Broadcasters' Hall Of Fame. In television, he has guest-starred on such popular series as Roseanne, Married With Children and Cheers, and hosted his own late-night ABC talk show, Into the Night Starring Rick Dees, in the early '90s. In addition to his internationally syndicated Top 40 show, Dees most recently broadcast his Rick Dees In The Morning show on the Los Angeles airwaves MOVIN' 93.9-FM.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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