Buddy Deane reunion hops Middle-aged fans twist the night away

April 14, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

To a generation of Baltimore teen-agers, Buddy Deane was a pioneering rock 'n' roll disc jockey, host of a must-see television dance party in the '50s and '60s, and an undisputed arbiter of cool.

Now at 72, he's a grandfather of four, great-grandfather of three and owner of six Arkansas radio stations. But for 220 of his now middle-aged fans who turned out over the weekend at the Timonium Holiday Inn Select for one of Deane's classic record hops, he hasn't changed much.

"Ladies and gentlemen, here's the man on the scene with the record machine " And with that familiar introduction, Deane was home again.

"Are you ready to rock and roll?" he shouted, dressed in a crisp navy blazer and bright floral tie. "Well here we go with Danny and the Juniors and 'At the Hop.' Everybody up!"

Despite some sound system problems, Deane soon had the crowd in the Greenspring Ballroom jitterbugging, twisting, cha-chaing and stepping to the Madison, the line dance that originated in Baltimore and was revived in John Waters' 1988 film, "Hairspray," an affectionate homage to Deane's television show.

Radio voice

His radio-trained voice remains strong, and Deane can still fill up a dance floor by spinning guaranteed crowd-pleasers by Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin and Chubby Checker.

"Wow, it's like deja vu; it's been over 30 years since I've seen him," said 49-year-old Steve Walsch, who expertly won the limbo contest at Friday's hop. As a student at Overlea High School, he yearned to be on Deane's show.

"He really related to the kids. You could tell he really enjoyed what he was doing," said Walsch, who grew up in Baltimore and recently moved to Seattle. "He's like an icon."

Return to WITH

In May, Deane returned to the Baltimore airwaves on WITH-AM, broadcasting his oldies show from Arkansas on Saturday mornings. He's made the trip to Baltimore from his home in Pine Bluff to be host of several hops at the Holiday Inn. The events draw between 200 and 300 Deane fans who pay $10 a ticket to twist the night away.

"People love him to death, they absolutely do," said Niles Seaberg, WITH's program director. "Everybody remembers him from his television days."

Those people include divorce lawyer Ann Turnbull, 55, of Timonium, who said she always wanted to be on "The Buddy Deane Show."

Learning the Madison

"I just watched and wished, like most people," said Turnbull, who rented the "Hairspray" video to practice the Madison for the hop. "Thirty-five years later, and I'm still learning the dances."

Born in Arkansas, Deane began his Baltimore radio career at WITH in 1951, playing mainstream artists such as Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. The "new music" that young people at his record hops around town were clamoring for wasn't really his taste, but Deane saw potential there.

"I didn't discover rock 'n' roll, it discovered me," he said before the weekend hop. "I was floundering around, looking for something unique that could be my trademark."

In 1957, Deane introduced his music-and-dance show on WJZ-TV. It featured local teens performing the latest dance crazes as Deane spun cutting-edge records and was host to live (but often lip-synced pantomime) performances, including appearances by Jerry Lee Lewis, Brenda Lee and Fabian.

The show became an immediate hit. All over Baltimore, young people raced home from school to catch the 3 p.m. broadcast.

Some parents didn't approve of Deane, who was in his 30s, married and the father of three girls when he hosted the show. Irate adults frequently stopped him in the street to accuse him of corrupting the local youth.

"People used to say the twist was a vulgar dance," Deane said. "It was a little far removed from the rumba, but there wasn't anything obscene about it."

"The Buddy Deane Show" had consistently high ratings, but Deane said growing pressure from civil rights groups to integrate the show, which aired separate shows with black teens, led WJZ management to cancel it in 1964. Deane reluctantly went along with the decision.

"That was a very sad time in my life," recalled Deane, who said he gave many black recording artists their first television exposure on his show.

But at the weekend record hop, people didn't come to remember controversy. They wanted to relive a time that seemed simpler and more innocent.

"The rowdies weren't interested in a show like ours," said Arlene Kozak, 62, Deane's assistant on his television show and longtime friend.

Dancing on 'The Committee'

Kozak ran auditions for "The Committee," a rotating group of teens who led dances on the show and appeared at Deane's record hops. A slot on "The Committee" didn't come with a paycheck but gave its members access to the ultimate "in" crowd. They became local celebrities and have remained close over the years.

"It gave you a status in school, because people knew you were on the show," said Anne Boyer, 52, of Dundalk, a Committee member for three years. At Milford Mill High School, she had permission to leave early every day for the show's taping.

Between turns on the dance floor at the record hop, she reminisced with other Committee members.

"It's funny to see everybody turn back into teen-agers in the 1950s again," Boyer said.

As the night wound down, fans approached Deane to say "Hi," and maybe ask if he'd mind posing for a picture. He didn't mind. However, Deane never accepts invitations to dance. The man who's famous for urging others to bop 'til they drop claims he has two left feet.

Deane told the hop crowd that he'd probably be back for a couple of more shows before WITH changes its format. Last month the station that brought rock 'n' roll to Baltimore was sold to a California-based company that specializes in religious broadcasting.

Pub Date: 4/14/97

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