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Cerphe Colwell’s Rock ’n Roll Life
Writer Cerphe Colwell    

A new memoir by the long-time radio host looks back at D.C.’s musical past

For those of us who grew up in Bethesda and Montgomery County in the 1960s and ’70s, our smooth-voiced, personal guide to progressive rock was Cerphe Colwell, who introduced us to the emerging sounds on WHFS-FM. The tunes from Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Little Feat, Fleetwood Mac, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Root Boy Slim, The Nighthawks and others, were a refreshing change from the routine rock that highlighted AM stations.

His new book, “Cerphe’s Up,” (Skyhorse Publishing) is a musical memoir of his 45 years as a rock radio broadcaster in the area. If you’re a serious music fan, you’ll enjoy some fascinating stories such as his scoop interview with former Beatle George Harrison, his early promotion and support of a young Springsteen, an interview with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham as they first joined Fleetwood Mac, and his station’s ability to play national breakout artists alongside local bands that helped introduce his audience to the important music that reflected the pulse and rhythm of the times. A couple of days before a November book signing in Bethesda, we asked him for insights and highlights of his career and his thoughts about music and radio today.

Why do you think WHFS-FM was such an influential station in its day?
At WHFS, we were social media before there was social media and we were living in interesting times, so our generation was making interesting music. That’s been said before, but ’HFS was in the nation’s capital, and people came to the city to celebrate our emerging culture and protest racism and war. Me and my ’HFS cohorts like Damian and Weasel could play what we wanted, and as (Frank) Zappa said in my book, ‘(We) could create an art form out of our own broadcasts.’ Technology played a role as well, because new recording techniques pioneered by The Beatles and others gave artists the ability to create completely new sounds in popular music. This experimental ‘anything goes’ spirit was pioneered by ’HFS. And we created a community together.

I was proud reading about your testimony on Capitol Hill, supporting Frank Zappa, in 1985, standing up to the Parents Music Resource Center, that wanted to enforce a harsh record labeling system that challenged music’s right of freedom of speech. Wasn’t it surprising when Frank Zappa’s next album after the hearings, humorously named, “Jazz from Hell,” was slapped with an “Explicit Lyrics” sticker by the PMRC, when there were no lyrics on it?
Yes, you can’t make that stuff up. I miss Frank all the time. We were close friends, and the interview we did together in the book is one of my favorites. I keep in touch with Frank’s son Dweezil who was recently a guest on my MusicPlanetRadio.com show.

Who are the more politically focused artists for the current generation?
Certainly Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, Jackson Browne, U2, Neil Young, Foo Fighters, Melissa Etheridge, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and Sting continue being political in their music and are still embraced by that demographic. Younger artists like The National, Katy Perry, Mumford & Sons, John Legend, Arcade Fire and Lady Gaga also incorporate a lot of politics with music.

Do you think rock ’n roll will live on forever as the main outlet for teenage angst and rebellion or will another form of music ever take its place?
We can never be sure what new music and art will sound or look like for the coming generations. However, we can usually bet that the future generation’s music will always have a beat and an attitude. But we have already seen the resiliency and endurance of artists like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley to continue to influence and find their way into the hearts of new generations, haven’t we? Their music continues to sell today and it appears that’s not ending anytime soon.

You played the artists you had a passion for and promoted their shows in town. How did you feel when after seven popular years you were let go and told by management, that “WHFS doesn’t do promotion for upcoming shows?”
How would anybody feel? It was a massive blow to my self esteem. I was deeply hurt. It made me feel like “if this is what radio is like, then count me out.” Fortunately, I got a chance to bounce back at WAVA. From there, I moved on to DC 101, WJFK, ClassicRock94.7 and now MusicPlanetRadio.com. I have a tendency to stay put, so being let go from WHFS was the best thing for me. If that hadn’t happened, I might be at Dairy Queen asking if you’d like fries with that, but in a cool radio voice.

What are your goals for your Internet radio show, “Cerphe’s Progressive Show” on Music Planet Radio?
My goal with MusicPlanetRadio.com has always been to provide an eclectic blend of world-class rock not available on FM anymore. On Cerphe’s Progressive Show, I really get to open the throttle and do something unique – play bands you grew up with, new music from classic rock artists, plus artists on the rise. We are in the process of shifting our lifestyle segments to our sister station, TalkPlanetRadio.com to keep MusicPlanetRadio.com focused on great music. On TalkPlanetRadio.com, we just launched Cerphe’s Audio Vault, featuring my interviews on demand with Stevie Nicks, Dweezil Zappa, Robert Plant, Steven Tyler, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Nils Lofgren, Little Steven Van Zandt and others. We also have lifestyle segments on home maintenance, sustainable living, music, film, investing and wealth-building, home-buying tips and more. Cerphe Colwell's new book, “Cerphe’s Up”, published by Carrel Books, a division of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., is available at www.musicplanetradio.com/cerphes-up-a-rock-roll-life


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