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Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
I’ve been an ardent fan of the big bands all my life. As a child growing up in New Jersey, I set my radio dial to WNEW, where "Make Believe Ballroom" featured a constant stream of recordings by big bands and their vocalists. Swing music went into hibernation for a while, as vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney and Perry Como stole the spotlight away. Determined to keep the old sound alive, I accumulated a collection of over 9,000 recordings. With such a rich resource at my fingertips, it was a natural next step to inaugurate a weekly radio program, which went on the air in 1983 and is now carried by over 40 National Public Radio stations.
Transcript Begins:EPISODE 215
00:00:08] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider's view into the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk taking. Connect with Kerry through her candid, funny, informative and always encouraging weekly blog. And now it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all Up in Your Business.
00:00:35] KM: Thank you, Gray. You will recognize the voice of my guest today. It is one you have heard many times over the years and is broadcast on over 40 radio stations across the nation. The ever-popular, Mr. David Miller, of Swingin’ Down the Lane.
Growing up in New Jersey, Mr. Miller listened to the radio station WNEW, and their program called Make Believe Ballroom. And that is exactly what young David did, visualize the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Glenn Miller crooning and playing to the music of the big band era, all the while he was doing his homework.
It was in 1983 that David began sharing his love and knowledge of his music with his radio audience and burst his show Swingin’ Down the Lane. And now it is only natural he has written a book titled Close Encounters, because that's what it is, excerpts from interviews with such greats as Linda Ronstadt, Frankie Laine and Buddy Marrow.
In this book, he also recounts the influence this style of music has had on his life and tells how a chance encounter with bandleader, Skitch Henderson, changed his career path forever. It was the 1920s when big bands came into being. And though they once had a decline during the birth of rock, they are back again today, and Mr. Miller has been a stalwart fan dedicated through all the ups and downs to keep this music genre alive and well.
It is my pleasure to welcome to the table, the big band era, collector, enthusiast, aficionado, and host of his own show, Swingin’ Down the Lane, Mr. David Miller.
00:02:14] DM: Well, thank you so much. My gosh! That is a gushing intro. Yeah, I’ll try to live up to it. Okay?
00:02:22] KM: But all true. Oh, I’m sure you will. So I got to tell everybody that I prepped you before the show and made you the perfect guest, because I said, “David, I love you.” I do. I love everything that you've done. So you said in your book, you fell in love with the big band sound at age five. Tell us about that love affair? Was there like a defining moment? Or did it just kind of grow over time?
00:02:50] DM: Well, I think it started really when I was supposed to be doing my homework. And I found, to my great amazement, that I could do my homework and listen to the radio at the same time. Now, I don't want any kids to listen to that and say, “That's what I've been doing wrong all this time.” But it worked for me. And it was a wonderful program.
I was fortunate to be brought up in northern New Jersey, which meant we lived about 15 miles away from New York City. That meant we had all kinds of radio stations. I mean, there was a specialty one on Italian-American music, another one on pure jazz, and, of course, a symphony, one that was sponsored, I think, by the New York Times. And then there were three different stations that I could listen to that played the music that I came to love.
And I remember one time, in our family, we always ate promptly at six o'clock. And I was in the living room listening to the Make Believe Ballroom. And my mother called, “David, wash up. It's dinnertime.” And I said, “I'll be there in a minute. I just want to listen to the end of this music.” And my father, who normally didn't say much about me, said, “That isn't music.” I was outraged. It was Count Basie’s Jumping at the Woodside. And I wanted to hear that wild clarinet solo before I went to dinner.
Well, I was probably, at that time, eight years old at the time, and I just realized that this was my kind of music. It was interesting. And then along came Sinatra. And I had a new appreciation for the vocalists. And it went on from there.
Now, of course, I had to make a living. And for a lot of years, my love for music was simply going to a concert now and then. If a big band came to town, wherever I was living, I'd go there and I’d enjoy it thoroughly. But then I got a job with RCA. And RCA at that time was putting out a whole series of LP albums, that new technology.
00:05:37] KM: Long play. Long play.
00:05:39] DM: Yes, long play. And they were going back into their archives to the wonderful music that I listened to as a kid and converting it to LPs.
00:05:52] KM: Converting it from what?
00:05:54] DM: From the old 78s, 78 RPM records.
00:05:58] KM: If your dad did not like that kind of music, what kind of music did he like?
00:06:03] DM: My dad played piano, classical piano. The only time he and I – Well, two things. He liked Gershwin. But he liked Gershwin because of Gershwin's semi-classical music. And he told me one day he said, “Who's that singing?” And I said, “It's Jo Stafford.” And I said, “She's good.” She said – My dad said, “She's good. She has perfect pitch.”
00:06:33] KM: There you go. I guess it's been going on for generations. A guy was laying my carpet the other day in my house, and he was listening to Glen Campbell or somebody, I don't know. And I said, “Oh, I know all that old music.” It's all ballads. And he said, “Well, the music that kids are listening to today is just terrible.” And I thought, “God! It just goes on forever.”
00:06:57] GM: I think so.
00:06:58] DM: I think it does.
00:06:59] KM: Right? We're talking about all the way back to your dad, David. And you're no spring chicken. I mean, how long ago was that? That was a long time ago. Did you always think you were going to have a career in music?
00:07:09] DM: No. No, I had no idea. In fact, at RCA, I just thought, “Oh, this is really neat.” Because anybody at a certain managerial level was entitled to 15 LPs a month. They circulated a list to all of the offices, and you checked off all the ones you want. Well, RCA owned NBC, The Today’s Show and all that. Yeah, I worked at 30 Rock, and on the fourth floor were all of the studios for NBC New York.
But here I get these 15 albums a month. Well, I had to get something to play them on. And that's how my interest was reawakened. Because I was already in my 30s by the time I started working with RCA.
00:08:08] KM: We skipped 10 years in here.
00:08:09] DM: Yes, we skipped 20 years actually.
00:08:13] KM: Did you go to college?
00:08:14] DM: I went to college. Yes.
00:08:16] KM: Did you graduate? Did you get a degree?
00:08:19] DM: Yes, I did.
00:08:20] KM: Oh, well. I didn't. That's fine if you didn’t. But what did you get a degree in, broadcasting?
00:08:25] DM: No. Psychology. I went to Princeton. Got my degree in psychology.
00:08:33] KM: Did you practice psychology?
00:08:35] DM: I was not a clinician. I was a social psychologist, which means, in my case, studying people's attitudes. Marketing research was my – If I had to put two words together to describe my real career, it was marketing research. That's what I was doing at RCA.
00:08:56] KM: You listened to WNEW, Make Believe Ballroom. And you saw live performances, probably in New York City.
00:09:05] DM: I’d take the train in the subway and go to Greenwich Village. And great Dixieland places there. They had jazz clubs in the village. So if you didn't go to Nick's, you went to Eddie Condon's place. And they had music started. I don't know when it started. But I know that it played until 3am.
00:09:31] KM: How old were you? Could you stay out as late as you wanted?
00:09:33] DM: The first time I went there, I was under age, which in New York City was 18. It’s 21 in New Jersey. So I will tell you, on my 18th birthday, it happened to fall on Easter. So obviously it was a Sunday. And my buddies said, “Hey, let's go over to New York City. You can have your first legal drink. And Sally Rand is appearing at the club.” Sally Rand, for you, younger people –
00:10:07] KM: I know that name. I’d recognize that name.
00:10:10] DM: Was a fan dancer. She had these big white fans, like this big that covered everything, except that as the music played, somehow the feathers dropped. So my friends thought that might be a good thing for you to have, Dave, on your 18th birthday.
So we arrived at the club, and we got bad news. The man at the door said, “No. Miss Rand is not here this evening. She is celebrating Easter.”
00:10:54] GM: Oh my gosh.
00:10:55] DM: We were crushed.
00:10:56] KM: Well, yeah. So was the ticket sales that night?
00:10:59] DM: Yes.
00:11:03] KM: Oh, all right. This is a great place to take a break. We've only just begun. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Mr. David Miller, host of Swingin’ Down the Lane, a radio show dedicated to keeping the sound of the big band era alive and well. And he's the author of his own book, Close Encounter, an autobiography with excerpts from 80-plus interviewees. More to come after the break.
00:11:29] GM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago, with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed along with Kerry's experience and leadership knowledge.
In 2020, Kerry McCoy Enterprises acquired ourcornermarket.com, an online company specializing in American-made plaques, signage and memorials for over 20 years, and more recently opened a satellite office in Miami, Florida.
Telling American-made stories, selling American-made flags, the flagandbanner.com. Back to you, Kerry.
00:12:08] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with Mr. David Miller, host of the radio show, Swingin’ Down the Lane, a tribute to the big band era music.
So money was slim back then when we were kids. And my mother wouldn't let me buy albums, or 45s, or anything. You didn't buy sodas. You didn't buy albums. You didn't eat out. You made your own clothes. Did your mother let you buy albums and records?
00:12:34] DM: I had an allowance, but I worked, too, as a kid at age five. I was a ball chaser at a tennis court. I put up a little sign that said ball chasing. I think I spelled it right at age 5.
00:12:53] KM: If you didn’t, you probably got tips. Sexy tips.
00:12:54] DM: Two cents an hour.
00:12:55] KM: No way.
00:12:58] DM: Yeah, two cents an hour.
00:12:59] KM: That's entrepreneurship right there.
00:13:01] DM: And after a while, the guy who owned the tennis court said, “You know, you're not charging enough.” “You think I should go to three cents?” He said no. “Five cents.” Well, I was really worried about it. Five cents. I’m like, “Who's going to buy my services for five cents?” Well, he was right.
One Saturday, I earned all of 65 cents, who was the top dollar for me. And I ran all the way home. I was around on the other side of the block from where I lived. And I came in and I told my parents, “I had a great day. 65 cents.” And I started reaching in my pocket.
00:13:47] KM: No. Don’t tell me.
00:13:48] DM: Well, it seems that I should not have been running out, because apparently the coins dropped out as I went along. Oh, there was some left. But my biggest pay day turned out to be –
00:14:03] KM: Somebody else's windfall.
00:14:04] DM: Yes. Yes. Right.
00:14:05] KM: Did you go back and trace your steps?
00:14:08] DM: I did not. No.
00:14:09] KM: What?
00:14:10] DM: No, no, no. I knew the odds were very small. As far as buying records.
00:14:17] KM: Yeah. So how much was a record back then?
00:14:19] DM: Well, a record was 35 cents, and you got two songs. Side A and side B.
00:14:27] KM: And those were 78s. Or were those –
00:14:28] DM: Yeah, they were 78s.
00:14:30] KM: Could you play 78 on regular stereo? No?
00:14:33] DM: No. I had to send my – I want to say record player, but that's not the right word. I want to say phonograph. But that's –
00:14:43] KM: It’s not Victrola, is it?
00:14:46] DM: Well, actually, I had to Victrola. But anyway, I had to send it away. And they actually retrofitted it so that it would play 45s, LPs and 78s.
00:15:03] KM: That's committed right there. So let's talk about your career. I didn't know till you came in here today and said, “I've had six careers,” or something crazy like that. And I was like, “What?” And you started counting them on your finger. So where do you want to start talking about –
00:15:15] DM: Well, after Princeton, I got my doctorate at University of Michigan. So my first job from there was with J. Walter Thompson, at the time, the world's largest advertising agency. And their Michigan client was Ford Motor Company. So I worked doing research for Ford for about five years in Detroit. Then I got hired away by Chrysler Corporation. They had had some real problems at the very top, and they brought a new management, and they wanted a whole new look. And they decided they wanted a whole new manager of marketing research. And then have you ever heard of the Harris Poll?
00:16:08] KM: I don't think so.
00:16:08] DM: You've heard of the Gallup poll. But you may not have heard of Lou Harris, Louis Harris. He was selling his services to Chrysler Corporation. And so I got to meet him. And he said, “You know, I could use you in my organization.” So I became the Executive Vice President of Louis Harris & Associates in New York City. I was there for a year and a half. And he decided, “I'm going to reorganize. So you're not going to be the Executive Vice President anymore. You're going to be a division head along with two other people.” And I said, “No. I don't want to do that.” So he said, “Well, if you'll read our employment agreement, I have the option of terminating you if you don't do what I'm asking you to do.”
So I walked out. I didn't have a job. Then I went to RCA. So I was with RCA until they decided to – And I don't count this as a career change. They decided to relocate our little team to Indianapolis, still with RCA. But we were creating a wonderful new invention called a video tape recorder. It was an amazing thing. You actually could record stuff off the air. As you're watching it, you could record it. And then there's some prerecorded tapes that you plug into the machine, and it plays on your TV set. Wonderful –
00:17:59] KM: Is that the VHS, or is that the Betamax?
00:18:01] DM: It was VHS. Well, actually, what happened there was RCA was in development of this wonderful thing. But a Japanese company, Matsushita, they sell in the US as Panasonic, beat us to it. And so they said to our little team, “We don't need you anymore.” So I found myself out on the street in Indianapolis.
00:18:31] KM: But you have a new love for records, because while you've been there – How many years now have you been there?
00:18:34] DM: Yes. Well, all together, it’s about six years?
00:18:37] KM: So while you've been there, every month you're getting 10 new records or something?
00:18:41] DM: Yeah. I guess I did get them in India as well. I got this much.0
00:18:44] KM: So now you're back into loving music again.
00:18:46] DM: Yeah. So, okay. So now I don't have a job. And this time it took, let's see, four months before I joined Gulf Oil Corporation in Pittsburgh in marketing research and public affairs, except that I was only there for six months or less. Because I didn't like my boss.
00:19:11] KM: It happens.
00:19:12] DM: We're talking business here, aren’t we?
00:19:15] KM: Yeah. Right.
00:19:16] DM: I was turned off by him completely.
00:19:19] KM: Interesting.
00:19:20] DM: I did not trust him.
00:19:21] KM: That'll do it.
00:19:22] DM: He would have me give instructions to the advertising agency. And I would do so. And then he called me in and he'd say, “They haven't yet produced what I told them to do. It was due yesterday.” And I would say, “Well, actually, it wasn't due yesterday. It's due next Monday.” Oh, so we were like that. So I went to the personnel department and they said, “Well, funny, you should stop in here because we have an opening in Houston.” And I got transferred to Houston.
And they sent me off to a wonderful Gulf management school for three weeks. And I was one of 25 people drawn from all through Gulf Oil Corporation to go to this course. So I went back after the Course was over. And my boss said, “Well, come on in.” I went in, and I started to tell him what a great thing it was and how pleased – He said, “Well, wait a minute. Actually, the reason I called you in here is that, essentially, we've brought somebody over to take your job.”
00:20:41] KM: Oh, my gosh.
00:20:42] DM: But I can report to him. Well, that didn't sit very well with me. So when I was approached about a job in Little Rock, Arkansas –
00:20:53] KM: That's how he got here.
00:20:56] DM: I said – I'll tell you what my first impression was. I was getting out of the army. And I was going to resume my job that I had a leave of absence from. I was on the train going from a Philadelphia, where I was stationed, to New York. And I was reading the paper. It was all about Little Rock.
00:21:19] GM: Oh, Central High School.
00:21:21] DM: Yeah.
00:21:22] KM: And you're like, “I am not going there.”
00:21:23] DM: I thought, “Little Rock. My gosh.” So that was my impression of it. When I was at Chrysler, we had an assignment. Somebody had to go to Little Rock to debrief a customer who had been pretesting a turbine-powered automobile.
00:21:45] KM: I gotcha. That's the only thing you knew about Little Rock, was that you had a test model Chrysler.
00:21:51] DM: Well, no. What I knew about it by that time was that somebody had to go there in July, to debrief. And I thought, “Wait a minute, Little Rock and a hot part of the month.” So I sent my lieutenant there. We also had one in Fargo, North Dakota. And we were due to debrief that family in February. And I sent my lieutenant to there, too.
00:22:25] KM: So when did you decide that you liked Little Rock? He came back and told you it was okay down there or something?
00:22:29] DM: Well, it took a little while. I have to be very frank about that. But the real test is how do I feel about it now when I retired from my own business, which is number seven on the list?”
00:22:46] KM: It's next. Okay.
00:22:47] DM: Yeah. My wife, Tish, and I kind of looked at each other, “Okay, if we're going to sell the company, the radio show can be done any place in the country. Where should we go?” And we agreed. We're going to go no place.
00:23:02] KM: You’re going to retire right here.
00:23:03] DM: We are home.
00:23:04] KM: But how did you decide to come to Little Rock? And what year is this that you moved? 1983?
00:23:08] DM: This was ’79.
00:23:09] KM: Came to visit and were pleasantly surprised or just desperate to get away from – Which one?
00:23:15] DM: Yeah.
00:23:16] KM: Pleasantly surprised or desperate to get away?
00:23:18] DM: I don't like the desperate word. But that closer than the other the one. That’s the other. It was an opportunity.
00:23:27] KM: It was an opportunity to change where you’re – Yeah.
00:23:31] DM: The man who was president of Channel 7, Bob Doubleday, decided that he wanted to start a market consulting firm. And he persuaded Jean Fortson, who is here in town now, to join him. And then said they needed a third guy, a research guy. And I got this phone
call while at Houston saying, “Hey, there's a great job opening. It’s right down your alley. It's in Little Rock.” I said, “No, thanks.” So they hired somebody else.
And then somebody else went to Boston, their home base, to have a kind of a farewell party. And he got overcome with, “Oh, I can't do this.” So he told them two days before he was to start, that he wasn't going to take the job. So I get another phone call saying, “Really, this is right down your alley. Come on. Look, it doesn't hurt to go and listen.” I listened and I liked what I heard. And that's how I joined the RD Doubleday company. And one of the things we did was public opinion polls, which were reported on channel seven. I would get with Steve Barnes on camera about once a month, and for like a five-minute segment, talk about the results of some survey that we were doing.
They had a young governor in Arkansas at that time, and Jean Fortson said, “I want to get you two together. You're a couple of Ivy Leaguers. You might be interested.” So that's how I met Bill Clinton. He was what? 32 at the time? And running for reelection.
00:25:37] KM: So how did Skitch Henderson change your – You said that meeting the band leader, Skitch Henderson, changed your life forever? I mean, everything seems to be changing your life.”
00:25:52] DM: Well, I know. I have 21 life-changing experiences. Now here's the definition that I use. Okay. There are three kinds of changes that take place. One of them is dictated by somebody else. Your parents decide where you're going to grow up as a kid. That’s one. Another one is your decision. But it doesn't change your life. I think I'll have veal scallopini for lunch. It's not going to change my life, whether I do or don't. And the third one is, I'm coming to a crossroads. And as Yogi said, “I'm going to take it.” So that's my definition of the 21.
00:26:40] KM: A fork in the road.
00:26:41] DM: A fork in the road. And it's a decision to make. And whichever decision I make is going to change my life forever. I remember one-time, Tish said to me, “What do you think would have happened if you'd stayed with Chrysler?” And I said, “I don't know. And I don't care.”
00:27:01] KM: Yeah, no looking back.
00:27:04] DM: Because there's no way of knowing. All I know is that my life would have been different and her life as well. And so, all right.
00:27:14] KM: All right. So how does Skitch Henderson changed your life?
00:27:15] DM: All right, Skitch. Okay. Skitch had a weekly program, which was broadcast nationally.
00:27:23] KM: And he's a bandleader, right?
00:27:26] DM: Yes. He led the band on The Tonight’s Show on TV for a while. And his producer called. And he said, “Skitch is going to have Helen Forest as his guest for next week's program. And they're going to be talking about the recording that she did with Benny Goodman, The Man I love.” He said, “for some reason, we can't find that record.” I understand that you have a rather large record collection. Would you happen to have that?” And I said, “Well, just a minute. Let me just check. I think I do.”
And in those days, in 1983, I didn't have it on computer. I had it all hand-written. And I came back to the phone. I said, “Yeah, I've got three copies of it. It's old 78s down there in the basement. Three of them.” He said, “Great. Would you pick out the best of the three? Put it on tape? Send it to us. We need it for next week's broadcast.” Okay, I did that.
The next Saturday morning, Skitch himself came on and he said, “Well, Helen, you had a real success with that recording you made with Benny Goodman, The Man I Love. Well, so let's listen to it.” And the music starts. I reach over like this, grabbed a pen and I started writing. Tish looks over at me and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I'm writing a news release.” “A news release? What about it?” “About the fact that local man's record is being played on national radio?” Well, she gave me one of those wifely looks, like –
00:29:21] KM: He just rolled his eyes, everybody. That's an entrepreneur right there.
00:29:27] DM: She said, “Who's going to care?” I said, “Well, I don't know. I'm going to send this into the paper. “Maybe they'll print it. Maybe they need a little paragraph someplace. So I said, “But before I send it to the paper, I better check with the station.” So I went over to North Little Rock to what was called the Twin City Bank Building. Went up to the top. And there was a studio not as plush, of course, as where we are here. But studio. And I talked with the studio manager. I showed him the article, and he kind of glanced at it and pushed it away. And he said, “Have you ever been on radio?” And I said, “No.” “Would you be interested in doing a program?” I thought, “That was a kind of a neat idea.” “Yeah.” That's how it started in 1983.
00:30:26] KM: And who came up with the name Swingin’ Down the Lane?
00:30:29] DM: Well, there’s aa little story there. It used to be A Sentimental Journey with David Miller.
00:30:33] KM: Oh, I like that.
00:30:35] DM: Isn't that nice?
00:30:35] KM: Yes. So copyright problems?
00:30:37] DM: Yes. I use that for four or five years. And then I got a call from a lawyer in Florida. It seems that someone had been traveling through Arkansas and happened to catch the program and the title and decided that, “Wait a minute, he's using the name that we already have.” So I said, “Oh, okay. Well, I'll change –” I said, “I've got things in production and I’ll change it in probably two to three weeks.” He said – I remember exactly what he said. There were three words that stuck out in my mind, “Cease, desist now.” And I remembered this 1921, 1922 song, Swinging Down the Lane. And I said, “that's what we're going to use.”
00:31:37] KM: And it's too old to be copyrighted back then. There wasn't hardly anybody copyrighting anything back in those days.
00:31:43] DM: Back in 1983, this was a nostalgia program. And my audience were the same age as me. And this was our music that I was bringing back to life. Okay. But as the years have gone by, it's not nostalgia. I'm a music educator now. I'm telling people about things that
they did not experience and musicians that they may never have heard of, but which were great in their day. So Swingin’ Down the Lane gives me that flexibility to hop through different decades.
00:32:26] KM: You're absolutely a teacher.
00:32:28] DM: I am.
00:32:29] KM: Absolutely a teacher today. When you listen to your radio station, it is just a wealth of information. What time is your show?
00:32:38] DM: it's Friday night, nine o'clock.
00:32:40] KM: Let's take another quick break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Mr. David Miller, host of Swingin’ Down the Lane, a radio show playing music from David's very own collection of over 9000 songs from the big band era. And Mr. Miller is the author of his book, Close Encounters, an autobiography with excerpt from 80-plus interviews. We'll be back after the break.
00:33:03] ANNOUNCER: On February 12th, everybody's going to be gathering for the first Dancing into Dreamland in two years. Join us. We’re celebrating our major construction accomplishments of the past few years. Despite the pandemic pressures, we've been able to continue all the work getting the Dreamland ballroom up to code. Some interior restoration still to be done here in 2022. But come help us celebrate. Tickets for dancing into Dreamland and sponsorship opportunities are still available.
You know, we continue to take COVID safety very seriously. And we've amended our guidelines for the event concerning vaccination requirements. We want to let you know that proof of vaccination will be required for adults who are attending Dancing into Dreamland February 12th. Proof of vaccination can be shown a check-in or sent in prior to February 12th if you email your proof to friendsatdreamlandballroom.org. A negative COVID test taken within 48 hours of the event will also be valid for entry.
We're going to be setting up sanitizing stations with masks around the ballroom. And all the food's going to be served in individual boxes. Luckily, we've got a very open room, and that makes for a spacious seating arrangement. It’s going to be fun, but we wanted to alert you to the latest changes. Dancing into Dreamland, February 12th.
00:34:15] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with Mr. David Miller, host of the radio show Swingin’ Down the Lane, a tribute to the big band era music. You had quite a following. People came to get you. And you moved from large corporation to another large corporation. You ended up at RCA, the record company. You fell back in love with music. Now, circumstance has it, you ended up in Little Rock Arkansas that you thought was the end of the world. Now you've come to love it like everybody that comes here does. I can't tell you how many guests we've had on here that said they thought, “Little Rock? What am I going to do going to Little Rock?” And then they get here and they're like, “Oh, it's nice here.”
00:34:57] GM: And then they spend 30-plus years here or something.
00:34:59] KM: And retire. So now let's talk about the big band music. I mean, why is it still important to people and for them to hear about it?
00:35:11] DM: I asked the question. Will big bands ever come back?
00:35:17] KM: That is the question.
00:35:19] DM: And their answer, and I believe they're completely correct, is it's never gone away. And it will never go away. And here's why. Well, back in the 1940s, you've seen the pictures, the black and white pictures of dancing couples, and a bandstand, and 14 guys in tuxedos playing music while young people are dancing around. That went away. Actually, it went away, in large part at the end of World War II. Because the GI’s guys came back, they married, they had children. They don't want to go out to ballrooms to dance anymore.
00:36:16] KM: Yeah, they stopped dance.
00:36:18] DM: And the ballrooms then disappeared, Well, you know about the Dreamland Ballroom and how it had its high spot. But then there came the time when, well, for example, vocal groups came in. Starting, I suppose, with Elvis, and then the Beatles. Now, that's one person. And then it's four people. It's not 14 people in tuxedos playing wonderful music. So that's why it seemed to be going away. Although there were – And during the last 40 years of last century, there were bands that were playing, but they didn't get the big venues. They played for country clubs, or parties for rich people. They weren't on the radio, except for Lawrence Welk. They weren't on television.
00:37:22] KM: Which is still on television, if anybody wants to know. My grandkids love to watch Lawrence Welk.
00:37:27] DM: Yes. Yes. So. All right. So big bands weren't dead. But they certainly weren't thriving. Now, what has happened now is that big bands are going into the concert halls. They're putting Nevermind the dancing. They're going into concert halls. The big breakthrough actually took place in 1938, Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall. I mean, that got big coverage in the New York Times, and The Herald Tribune, because, wow, this swing stuff at the place where Toscanini performs. But that was just the beginning. So that's what I say, that big bands are never going to go away. They are going to be an attraction to Robinson Auditorium.
00:38:33] KM: So your book, close encounters. I love the title, because it's talks about all the stars in your book. You've met huge stars. Tell us about some of the interviews that you write about in your book. Linda Ronstadt?
00:38:46] DM: Linda came to Little Rock to perform with the Arkansas Symphony several years ago. And the symphony folks asked me if I would be interested in interviewing her. And it took me a good split second before I said yes. And I knew of Linda Ronstadt. I mean, how could you not know about her? But her music didn't mean much to me. Until in the early 80s, she and Nelson Riddle got together for a couple of LPs.
Nelson Riddle, I knew very well. He was an outstanding arranger for big bands. And then he formed his own orchestra, which was wonderful because of his arranging skills. And I listened to
that album. And so I talked with her. Our whole conversation had nothing to do with her. It had to do with her relationships with Nelson Riddle. I told her that I understood that he was rather moody and hard to work with. And she said, “No.” She said, “I worked with him very well.” But that was my close encounter with her.
00:40:17] KM: You’ve interviewed Frankie Laine?
00:40:18] DM: Frankie Laine. Yes.
00:40:20] KM: Ain’t he a heartthrob? Wasn’t he a heartthrob?
00:40:22] DM: He lived in San Diego. And I was in San Diego. So I took the afternoon off to interview him. And we had a wonderful interview he gave me an autographed CD. And I looked at it and I said, “I'm not familiar with this. When did you record it?” He said, “’84.” I said, “1984?” “No,” he said, “when I was at 84.” Oh, wow! And it is really wonderful –
00:40:50] KM: How old was he when you interviewed him?
00:40:52] DM: He was 90, I think.
00:40:53] KM: Really?
00:40:55] DM: Still performing.
00:40:57] KM: Still performing? I think it keeps you young. Where did the term crooner come from? So I looked it up. It said a crooner is typically a male voice, I didn't know it had to be only a male voice, who sings sentimental songs in a soft, low voice of romantic jazz or pop standard.
00:41:14] DM: Yeah, I don't think it was used until Sinatra came along.
00:41:18] KM: And then it says, because I thought, “Well, what are women called?” And they're called chanteuse.
00:41:24] DM: Chanteuse. Yes, yes.
00:41:27] KM: Who knew that?
00:41:29] DM: Well, that's just a French word meaning female chanter.
00:41:35] KM: Singer. Oh, chanter. Female chanter. All right. I want to tell everybody, if you're just tuning in, you're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. And I'm speaking today with Mr. David Miller, host of the radio show, Swingin’ Down the Lane, a tribute to the big band era music. He also has a book titled Close Encounters that he's written. It's an autobiography with excerpts from 80-plus interviewees. Why should I buy this book? Who would enjoy it?
00:42:00] DM: I think it's got a dual audience. One is obvious, people who love the big band sound, regardless of what their ages. They can get some insight into what it's all about. What's the background behind it? I have a lot of excerpts from interviews that show from my standpoint the things that I want to know about famous people.
00:42:36] KM: Do you put your most embarrassing interview moment into this book?
00:42:42] DM: You know what it is?
00:42:43] KM: No.
00:42:44] DM: I don't know which one to pick.
00:42:49] KM: We've all got them.
00:42:52] DM: I'll think about that. Let's go to something else while I try to figure out which one I confess.
00:42:58] KM: All right. Nat King Cole. I’m looking right here on your book, Nat King Cole. He played in the Dreamland Ballroom.
00:43:04] DM: Yes.
00:43:05] KM: And so did Cab Callaway, and Duke Ellington, and BB King. And for those people that don't know me, I have the Arkansas Flag and Banner building in downtown Little Rock with the famous Dreamland Ballroom on the third floor. And every year, except for the year of COVID, we have a one fundraiser that's called Dancing into Dreamland, and we celebrate dancers. And it's kind of like Dancing with the Stars. And it's all genres. It's not just ballroom. It's all genres. But I'm telling the listeners this, because David has judged, been a judge, since the very first time.
00:43:39] DM: Since the very first.
00:43:42] KM: So this will be our 11th year. It would be our 12th, except we took a break because of COVID, one year. So February the 12th of this year, 2022, we are going to have Dancing into Dreamland again. And you love Dreamland, I think, because all your favorite people played on that stage.
00:44:02] DM: Well, that is certainly part of it. The other part is an amazing renovation of the building. I mean, when my friends come from out of state, I'll pick them up at the airport and I'll say, “Well, we're going to stop off at Dreamland. I want you to see this. And like me, they are just amazed at how it has been preserved, not over-preserved, but rather with the idea of getting back to what it was back in the days of – Through the 1950s, maybe into the 60s.
00:44:45] KM: You know, they started building it 1916. I think finished it and ’18. It was really in its heyday after the war. It had some great dancers, and it had some great entertainers. And the only person that I cannot find that played at the Dreamland is Elvis Presley. That's the only person I can't document. But I mean, even Redd Foxx played on the stage. Louie Armstrong, BB King. I got to interview BB King one time. I have documentation. He was there from the newspaper, but he could not remember playing there. He said to me, “Little lady, I can't remember everywhere I play. I play just 265 days a year.” I was like, “Okay. Find. Forget it.” I just kept pressuring him and pressuring – “You sure you don't remember?”
So this year, we're coming up again, and we're going to have it together. We're going to be together. Did you think of what it was that was your most embarrassing moment?
00:45:44] DM: I was giving a presentation in Denver for some group that got together once a month to hear some out of town speaker. And I had an elaborate presentation, which consisted of two slide projectors that were synced so that one slide would go on. And then automatically as I clicked, another slide go on. So I was into my pitch talking about the history of the big bands. And it turns out that in that particular Hall, the screen was located like 10 feet above the level where I was. So the projectors are going up like this. And the slides got fouled up a little bit. And worse than that, when we finally got them going, they were out of sequence by one. Slide two, then comes slide one. Then slide four, then comes slide three. And I'm meanwhile following a script. That was an embarrassing moment.
00:47:08] KM: Yeah, it is.
00:47:09] DM: Yeah. But they did pay me anyway.
00:47:14] KM: Well, good. So you know what? I wish we could have at the Dancing into Dreamland – This year, it'd be fun if we could ever have burlesque at the show. So much fun. I know. I got to ask you, because I didn't earlier. And then this will be our last question. Oh, where do people buy your book? I need to know that.
00:47:33] DM: On the website, it's swingindownthelane.com.
00:47:36] KM: There you go. Go buy your book there. And then your show, again, is on Friday nights.
00:47:42] DM: Friday nights. KUAR 89.1 on your FM dial.
00:47:47] KM: There you go. So when you went from being this marketing guru that everybody was seeking, marketing research guru that was being sought after by lots of large corporations, and then all of a sudden, you're now doing a free radio show. When did you make the transition to decide, “I'm going to quit working for corporations and become a radio show host full time? Or did you ever?
00:48:09] DM: Well, I started my own company in 1981.
00:48:16] KM: What was it? Marketing research company?
00:48:17] DM: Miller Research Group.
00:48:19] KM: Oh. How did computers change it?
00:48:23] DM: Made it a lot easier, really.
00:48:25] KM: I expected you to say harder.
00:48:27] DM: No easier. I had here in town an office that included 35 stations or interviewers to sit down with phones, call people, and key in their responses into the computer.
00:48:54] KM: And then you could sort and collect. Do you still have that business?
00:48:59] DM: No, I sold it in 1997 because I thought, “Hey, I'm not going to work all my life.” And besides, I do have my radio program.
00:49:17] KM: So is it a full-time job now?
00:49:19] DM: It's the only job. Whether it's full-time or not depends on –
00:49:23] KM: What you call full-time.
00:49:26] DM: Yeah.
00:49:27] KM: It's not even a job for you. You enjoy it so much.
00:49:30] DM: Sure.
00:49:31] KM: Okay, I have your gift. I should have brought – It's a desk set of flags, and I should have brought a flag from – I could have bought a flag from all the places you've lived, and it would be like this beautiful array of flags for every state. But I just gave you Arkansas
because that's your home now. Then I gave you new jersey because that's where you were born.
00:49:49] DM: Oh, wonderful. Oh, that is something. That is classic.
00:49:53] KM: It's classy and classic. I have loved visiting with you more than I can even tell you.
00:50:00] DM: Well, I love you.
00:50:01] KM: I love you, too. And I'll see you at Dancing into Dreamland. We're going to have a reveling night of partying and dancing. It's going to be great.
00:50:09] DM: I enjoy it every – Well, this will be number 11th, right?
00:50:14] KM: Mm-hmm. That’s right. Mm-hmm. And 10 more to go. Oh, I forgot to tell you, new decade, new group of dancers. Everybody's going to be different.
00:50:23] GK: Mm-hmm. Very exciting.
00:50:25] KM: You know, we closed up the decade with the Tournament of Champions.
00:50:30] DM: Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes.
00:50:30] KM: Yes. Remember? So all the champions came back last year. We had a tournament of champions. I think it was our best year ever. Everybody there was just off the chart, where we're starting over all new with a new decade, fresh dancers. And some of them are just fabulous. And they've come from, actually, New Delhi in London.
00:50:49] DM: Interesting.
00:50:50] KM: I know. I'm not going to tell you any more though, because you're a judge and you can't know anything.
00:50:53] DM: Oh, yes. That’s right.
00:50:55] KM: All right. It’s time for us to go.
00:50:57] DM: Thank you.
00:50:57] KM: Thank you, dear. In closing, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with us. We hope you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring or enlightening, and that it, whatever it is, we'll help you up your business, your independence or your life. I'm Kerry McCoy, and I'll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
00:51:17] GM: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today's show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio show and choose today's guest. If you'd like to sponsor this show, or any show, email me, Gray, email@example.com. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Stay informed of exciting upcoming guests by subscribing to our YouTube channel or podcast wherever you'd like to listen. Kerry's goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.