Classic Rock Corner

Shine a Light On Me: 40 Years of The Midnight Special

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Are you the sort of person given to self-examination? I'm not. Although I can clearly recall events from my past, I rarely consider how they made me who I now am. But watching the late-night clips of Fleetwood Mac and AC/DC, I was given to some introspection that made me realize how formative The Midnight Special -- a television show, of all things -- was for me.

For one, I see now that it gave me an early appreciation for live music. There was no lip-syncing on the show, which had been the norm for pre-MTV music programming. The bands played their songs and they sounded better sometimes, and sometimes not quite as good, as they did on record.

I wasn't thinking about it then, but with hindsight I see that was exciting for me in some way. By the time I got to my first live concert, the show had been cancelled; but, I already had what I needed from it. I could decide for myself, based on what I heard all those early Saturday mornings, whether the band was bringing it or just phoning it in.

Today, there are entire TV networks devoted to live-music programming. As I'm typing this at two in the afternoon, there's a Bon Jovi concert on VH1 Classic and Great White is headlining something called the M3 Rock Festival on AXS TV. When The Midnight Special began, there were three major networks and about seven channels to choose from. Live music wasn't high on the programming list.

All these years later, I also understand the show further honed my taste for diverse music styles. If you were going to watch guest host Leon Russell play his hit "Tight Rope," you might have to wait until The Gap Band played a few songs. And you might actually like those songs, too.

Reading through the show's episode guides on the Internet is like reading a roll call for rock and R&B's classic acts -- everyone from ABBA to KC and the Sunshine Band to Sly & the Family Stone had their names in red neon behind them on The Midnight Special stage.

The show wouldn't sign off until 1:30 a.m. locally, right before Channel 2 played the national anthem and then allowed snow to run on its valuable airwaves for four or five hours. I'd watch 'til the bitter end and sleep fast so I could pour a big bowl of Franken Berry just in time for Scooby Doo mere hours later.

I know -- what the hell was I doing awake at 2 a.m.? I was a pre-teen, after all. Thinking back, I remember being awake a lot of those nights waiting on my dad to get home from the bars and pool halls he frequented at the end of his long work weeks. He was a good man with a stronger-than-horseradish work ethic who devoted 30-plus years to the same company; but he played hard, too, particularly in those younger days.

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.