He was "The Daddio of the Raddio," "The Platter Pushin' Papa" and "Pork the Tork," and without legendary Pittsburgh disc jockey Craig "Porky" Chedwick, there might have been no Lou Christie.
Chedwick, who died in Pittsburgh Sunday at 96, was the first DJ to play Christie’s classic first hit “The Gypsy Cried.”
“He played it on an acetate!” recalls fellow Pittsburger Christie, referring to the initial test-disc versions of recordings that were frequently played on radio prior to commercial release.
“It was my first million-selling hit,” continues Christie, “and started getting all kinds of [listener response] calls.”
Debuting on the pop charts in January, 1963, “The Gypsy Cried” reached No. 24 nationally. But Chedwick had played it first, on station WAMO in the Allegheny County borough of Homestead, just southeast of Pittsburgh; the station’s call letters were an acronym for the rivers Allegheny, Monongehela and Ohio.
“He was totally supportive, and always so nice,” notes Christie. “He’d always say, ‘You’re in Hollywood now. When are you going to do that movie?”
Back then, Pittsburgh was “full of incredible ethnic families and all different ways of living: Ukraines, Czechs, Greeks, Russians, Italians,” says Christie, who was born Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco. “It was a great city, with great music—and Porky was the leader. If you were hip, you listened to him.”
Chedwick was “the No.1 DJ” in Pittsburgh, says Christie.
“He played fantastic records that pop radio stations would’t play—R&B and doo-wop. They were called ‘race records’ at the time—though I didn’t know what the damn phrase meant! And he was the first to use the term ‘oldies’: ‘Let’s go back and play an oldie.’ But they weren’t old records but R&B records that hadn’t got any attention at pop radio.”
In fact, Chedwick was programming black pop music as early as 1948, well ahead of “rock ‘n’ roll” in both name and genre.
“He had his own world and jargon and identity for everyone cool enough to listen,” notes Christie. “The Daddio of the Raddio.”
And unbeknownst to Chedwick, “I used to go to his record hops when I was 14 and 15. I had to hitchhike around Pittsburgh because I was too young to drive!”
Yet seven years later Christie was on a tour bus doing concerts with artists he’d seen at those Chedwick hops, like Bo Diddley, Jerry Butler and Jackie Wilson.
“It was almost a pre-setup to what I would do with my life!” he says.
But Chedwick’s impact on Christie was truly fundamental.
“I listened to so many great R&B and blues records on his show, and there was always someone going ‘whoo-oo’ in the background. I loved that sound, and when I recorded ‘Gypsy,’ I knew I had to get that kind of attention from the beginning. That’s when I decided to sing the high falsetto: So many records Porky played had great falsetto singers on them, and I decided to try it myself.”
He sings the opening line of “The Gypsy Cried”—“I had some trouble with my baby….”
“It was the first chance I had of recording under the name Lou Christie,” he notes. “I was aware of the background high voice singing of groups like The Penguins, The Moonglows and Harptones and heard so many great records on Porky’s show. He was such an influence on me.”
They stayed in touch all these years.
“It was his birthday a few weeks ago and I called him every year to wish him a happy birthday,” says Christie. “He was always such a gentleman and nice person to everyone in the business. Whoever had a record that meant anything knew about Porky.”
When Chedwick required brain surgery 20 years ago, “we all flew in to do a benefit show,” recalls Christie, who now lives in New York.
“Everyone came in for it, and since his passing, the outpouring of grief has been unbelievable. But he was so kind to everyone when they were starting out, and always had something nice to say about people.”
“It’s a sad loss for us, but he had a great life and so many people liked him,” concludes Christie.
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