For the majority of people reading this article, the name Clay Cole is unknown.
While everyone is familiar with Dick Clark, from 1959-1968, Cole was just as popular in New York. His eponymous show, in the American Bandstand mold, was first seen on Channel 13/WNTA (prior to it becoming a noncommercial station).
His popularity reached new heights when he moved to WPIX in 1963.
For the next five years, Cole’s show was the place to be–for viewers and artists alike. He gave the Rolling Stones their first TV audience in the states. Cole also introduced other artists to viewers, including the Four Seasons, Dion and Neil Diamond. He also gave comedians Richard Pryor and George Carlin their first break.
Cole died Saturday at his North Carolina home. He would have been 73 on New Years Day.
In his 2009 memoir, Sh-Boom! The Explosion of Rock ‘N’ Rock 1953-1968, Cole, born Albert Rucker, Jr., recalled his decision to take the name from his father’s cousin’s husband.
“What a great name, Clay had a cowboy reference and Cole was a solid American name.”
Along with being New York’s answer to Dick Clark, he was also Alan Freed’s replacement as concert emcee.
Leading up to Christmas 1960, Cole took the reigns at the Brooklyn Paramount for ten days of shows, welcoming such artists as Ray Charles and Neil Sedaka.
Cole maintained a busy schedule, writing in Sh-Boom!, “As emcee, I was on-stage for the full ninety-minute show, so I dashed back to the theatre to get into my tuxedo and onto the stage.”
Fans who grew up with Cole remember fondly The Clay Cole Summer Show from Palisades Park in New Jersey.
“It was from the stage area near the Fun House, not the stage by the cliff that [Cousin] Brucie did his shows. Great memories!” says Joe McCoy, the longtime former WCBS-FM program director.
“[The show] at Palisades Park seemed to be the center of the music universe, as teen idols, one-hit wonders, rockabilly duos, giggly girls groups, and tuxedoed a cappella boys scampered around the park, followed by gaggles of groupies, press agents, and hangers-on,” Cole wrote.
In recent years, there has been a push to have this music impresario enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
While not getting Betty White numbers, at last check, 429 people joined the Facebook page.
Cole gets the final word. This reporter met him in April at the Long Island Radio and TV Day. He inscribed a copy of his book:
“This is the way we were back in the 60s. Enjoy the memories.”
Photo: Cole with an admirer at the Long Island Radio and TV Day in April 2010.