Come with me now, rock music fan, to visit a bygone time of yore.
Imagine a time when radio station program directors could actually program their radio stations. When artists both on the rise and hugely successful playing in town might drop by the station, hang with the DJs, and play some softball. And when interviews could last days over various illicit substances rather than as a series of phone calls in 15-minute increments with a publicist listening in to interject if the conversation got too "controversial."
This golden time of rock radio lasted roughly from the late '70s to the early '90s, and Beau Phillips lived it firsthand. As a DJ and director at Seattle's KISW radio and, later, VP of Marketing for VH-1, Phillips had plenty of opportunity to study the species rockstarus maximus up close and personal.
He's collected scores of these encounters with artists like Van Halen, Robert Plant, AC/DC, Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Ratt, ZZ Top, Pete Townshend, Jon Bon Jovi, Heart, Pat Benatar and more in the book I Killed Pink Floyd's Pig: Inside Stories of Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll (270 pp., $14.95, Peanut Butter Publishing).
"It was an interesting and special time," Phillips offers. " It's when record labels had money, and lots of amazing artists were willing to work with promoters and radio and retail to make things happen to expose themselves to a wider audience."
Rocks Off asked Phillips to elaborate on a number of stories in the book, and how they could never, ever happen today.
Artist: Pink Floyd Summary: Phillips thought a great idea to promote the band's 1987 Seattle show would be to fly the huge airborne pig used in the show above the radio station's roof for a week prior to the performance. Shockingly, after much cajoling, Floyd management actually loaned him the pig, and all was well.
That is, until the morning of the show, when Phillips was awoken and informed that the pig had "disappeared." He rushed over, and discovered the porky mascot deflated on the roof with a huge tear in it. It had been shot with an arrow, perhaps by a rival station. The pig was due back to the venue in a handful of hours, and was brought to a parachute factory for emergency surgery.
"The first time I shit myself was when I thought it had flown away," Phillips says. "I figured somebody had to see it! I swore on my life to Pink Floyd that nothing would happen to this pig!
"The second time I shit myself was when it was laid out on the floor of the parachute maker's shop, and he brings out this orange patch that wasn't even remotely pink," he continues. "We got it back to the venue a minute before it was due, and sped away. But the most stunning thing was, that I never ever heard from them!"
Artist: Van Halen Summary: The band -- at the height of its Roth-era popularity -- made a surprise stop at the KISW studios bearing birthday gifts for the station including cake, champagne, various substances and strippers. Lots of strippers.
The band took control of the entire studio for three hours, turning it into an on-air wild party, with DJ David Lee Roth manning the phones and talking to listeners.
"I don't know how well I captured that whole thing in the story. I'll tell you this...there's a picture that was too hot for the book because it was wild and the strippers were topless. But you can see it on my Web site!" Phillips laughs.
"A band today -- no matter how big -- could never elbow their way past the front desk, walk down the hallway, get into the studio, push the DJ off the air, and take over," he says. "There would be security people all around and a line of attorneys suing you.
"It was just an entourage of people following them in," continues Phillips. "And all of a sudden clothes start coming off and women start grinding and the music goes up and David Lee Roth is getting more and more provocative on the phone as people are calling in. I was worried that the FCC was going to make a surprise visit. And there was cake all over the floor!"
Story continues on the next page.
Artist: ZZ Top Summary: Phillips had two encounters with the Little Ol' Band from Texas over the years.
First, earlier in their career when, as a promotion, Phillips convinced a local jewelry store to award a lucky female concertgoer with, um, a pearl necklace backstage to tie into the band's song of the same name. Most true Top fans know the band isn't singing about any accoutrement that you could buy at your local mall.
"When I proposed the idea, I fully expected someone to go 'Come on, Beau...' but I wanted to see how far I could take it," he says. "Nobody did and we got more daring on the air with [innuendos], and everybody was in on the joke except my sales manager and the jewelry company. But the band got the joke, and Billy Gibbons was into it!"
Later, after the huge success of the Eliminator era, Phillips again visited the band at their hotel to a much different sight.
"It was a spectacular suite with [a] floor to ceiling window. And there are three band members sitting, dressed in nothing but bathrobes. And they are facing two very nervous Japanese journalists in suit and ties," Phillips recalls.
"And there's food and there's drugs...and these totally naked women on the floor just crawling over each other. It was like a Fellini movie. And then they each disappeared into the bedrooms with a girl."
Of course, not all of Phillips reminisces are this debauched. One tells of Paul and Linda McCartney's amazing, well above-and-beyond generosity to a cancer-stricken teenage fan whose last wish was to meet the Beatle, and who died shortly after doing just that.
Also, Phillips talks about then up-and-coming artists like Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, and Sammy Hagar, who would visit the studio, forge relationships with station staff and - in the case of Benatar and guitarist Neil Giraldo - come bearing Thanksgiving dinner.
Today, Phillips bemoans a common complaint that terrestrial radio is bland, cardboard and boring, without the edge-of-your-pants programming and personalities which marked the earlier era. And artists are less and less reliant on traditional radio to either break or maintain their careers.
"Then the corporate stuff happened, and record stores went out of business, and radio got constipated and the whole idea of fun and music discovery went out the window," he sighs. "But during that period I'm writing about, it was a special bubble, and a time when it all clicked."
For more on Beau Phillips or to purchase a copy of the book, visit PinkFloydsPig.com.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.