Article 25

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

No Sham: Son of Sam

In Uncategorized on 04/22/2012 at 10:05 am

And a clapper, too

By Anne Skove


Normally I am smart enough to get my news from someplace that is not a pop radio station’s Facebook news feed, but learning about Dick Clark’s death from the New (though they play oldies) MOJO’s status update seemed appropriate.

The death of Dick Clark affected those of us who live in Western Civilization in the same way the Bible is our most important book, though we might never have read it cover to cover.

I don’t remember watching American Bandstand. We had our MTV. I think I knew Dick Clark as “that $24,000 Pyramid guy,” in the same way kids today know Paul Newman as “that salad dressing guy.”

But sure, I knew who the “World’s Oldest Teenager” was. He was famous for being on TV – inexplicably covering an even more inexplicable light-up ball being lowered onto a place I’d never visited. The Times Square New Year’s glowing orb will be our Stonehenge, confounding archaeologists of the future.

Dick Clark wasn’t a celebrity for himself – he was the emcee, the person who brought more fame to others than he brought to himself. There’s a generosity in such a role that many celebrities today couldn’t comprehend. He was the midwife, the talent scout, the conduit connecting the world with then-new acts like Chubby Checker, the Jackson 5, Ike and Tina Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, and just about every other music act with staying power. He knew how to pick ’em.

Would a skinny Texan boy with his Buddy Holly glasses, get a break today, even if he WERE Buddy Holly?

Articles about Clark’s support of Latino musicians appeared what seemed moments after his death. The message of these stars – from Ritchie Valens to Gloria Estefan – was this: Dick Clark brought their culture into the mainstream. Black, Latino, didn’t matter on national television anymore.

So it wasn’t surprising to overhear people in the Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins talking about Dick Clark recently. The man working was telling a customer, “My parents were on American Bandstand!” Cool, I thought. A lot of people must have memories like that – surely they needed a lot of dancers to fill the room.

But his parents weren’t dancers; they were performers. “ ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ –remember that?” he asked the lady, who looked as if she couldn’t remember anything before Taylor Swift.

“Sure! Awesome!” she said.

“Yeah, Sam the Sham – that was my dad.”

Son of Sam the Sham had just served rocky road to my daughter! Next time we’ll ask for “Wooly Bully.” (Sic, seriously, one L in “wooly.”)

The first person I could think of to tell this exciting news was my mixtape maven friend Mike, a D.J. himself during the golden age of WVXU’s Nightwaves. He still has radio on the brain. I accidentally called rather than texted, so I quickly hung up. (Sorry, Mike! At least I wasn’t calling you from a restroom again.)

Son of Sam explained that his mom sang backup for several well-known acts.

“She was a clapper!”

He demonstrated, clap-clapping high over one side of his head.

A clapper? You know, those songs from the ’50s and ’60s with clap-clapping in them. Somebody had to do the clapping.

So what ever happened to Sam the Sham? Later I checked him out online. He was (and still is) a Mexican-American entertainer, musician, poet and preacher. Wikipedia spells his last name incorrectly. Salon has a quirky interview with him from 1999, when Salon was all about quirk.

He has his own website: He apparently is still making music and touring, sans turban. Knowing that Sam has a video blog makes me feel like my friends’ elderly parents are my Facebook friends. Oh, wait, some are…

“What killed their act was the British Invasion,” explained the donut guy.

Sam the Sham dressed like a Shriner, counted in Spanish, told a bizarre story about Matty and Hatty and introduced us to “L-7.” John, Paul, George and Ringo wanted to hold your hand. The times, they were a-changin.’ Here we are, a few generations later, post-modernly surprised when we’re “Rickrolled” by the radio.

We heard Son of Sam the Sham’s “clap-clap” accompaniment to Dunkin’s usual oldies play list as we rushed out, almost late to my son’s guitar lesson. Surely that $24,000 Pyramid guy, now preserved in angel form, hovered over the parking lot.