Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Blast from Your Past Summer Tribute to DJ David “Da Snake” London

It’s always sad when someone we know leaves Earth for what we perceive as a “better place.” But it’s of some comfort to consider transition rather than finality. 

And even more wonderful when memories come flooding back for a tribute, a couple years later.

The following post originally appeared in December of 2013. Dave was remembered on my Facebook page today by Bill Trousdale with a fond memory. It inspired me to update and re-post Dave's memorial article, just days before what would have been his 67th birthday.

Happy Birthday "Snake"!

David L. Cockrell (06/26/1948 – 09/29/2013), aka DJ David London (WAPE/Jacksonville FL 1960s/early ‘70s); and David “Da Snake” London (KCBQ/San Diego 1970s) began his Earthly journey on a hot and humid summer day in 1948. He vacationed through life and boogied up to Rock & Roll Heaven September 29, 2013. In between, David was a man of many lives with a perpetual sunny smile. Here's how he made us smile ...

As mere mortals with selfish emotions, we often mourn our loss, rather than celebrate our good fortune to have known someone special.

Today, with memories of a man I knew all too briefly, and thoughts from those fortunate to have called him friend for years, we’re celebrating the pleasures of knowing David. He obviously left lasting impressions for many, throughout his life.

“I went to high school with David,” said Glenn Cockrell. “We are not related, just good friends. He began in radio here in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, back in high school. It was WRMT, an AM station. His radio name was Dave Laurence.”

A Memorial Dedication made more Memorable …
David and I met only once. We guffawed our way through a magic afternoon with some of his radio cronies at the KCBQ Monument Dedication August 28, 2010.

I had interviewed several of them for my Blast from Your Past book series and instantly added David to my list for the next round of interviews. We kept in touch through social media and emails, hoping to enjoy another in-person chat someday. I thanked my DJ friend, Bill Gardner for introducing us, as David quickly became one of my favorite DJs.

And we all share much gratitude to their radio colleague, Shotgun Tom Kelly (and his wife, Linda Irwin) for organizing the funding drive and event, for the handsome KCBQ-AM monument boasting an engraved list of its 1958-1978 “Top 40” DJs.

Because I write about Rock & Roll Radio DJs, they’re all my favorites. But David’s infectious laughter and tantalizing tales of their behind-the-microphone antics were over-the-top compelling and entertaining.

When I posted an image of the WAPE survey from 1972 on his birthday June 26, 2013, just months before he left us, David was pleasantly shocked, “WOW! Where did you find this old WAPE survey?? Jack McCoy left the Big Ape to be the new PD at KCBQ, and he called and offered me a job doing weekends at the Q to start. When I got there, EVERYONE thought I was a spy for Jack, so they called me the Snake. They even gave me a Boa Constrictor for a pet! After they got to know me, they realized I was NOT Jack's spy, we all became good friends, and I thought it was so funny I started calling myself "Da Snake" on the air! Funny how that came about, isn’t it? LOL!”

David touched many lives and made radio not only look easy, but enticingly fun – Bill Trousdale, Founder and President of Pennsylvania Museum of Music and Broadcast History, remembers fondly, “…Dave Cockrell, Dave London, Crazy Dave... I must have reconnected with him just before he passed. He's directly responsible for getting me into Broadcasting. Met him Texas late 60's early 70's.”

And Bill Gardner worked with David at the renowned KCBQ. “He and I remained close over the years, and I always told him his life would make one heck of a good book.  Most of which, I probably shouldn't tell.”*

Ah, but I prodded and Bill generously shared some wonderful stories that confirm my reason for reaching back in time to document life-snippets of these captivating men and women. Only in America … and only in this era …

“Picture it …” as the Golden Girls’ Sophia would say …

“David was once the pilot for Ernie Fields who recorded Glenn Miller’s "In the Mood," as a one-hit-wonder instrumental (1959). He used to fly Ernie around the Caribbean in a little two-seater Cessna 150, and send me pictures from time to time.”

Amazingly, “he's one of just a few people to ever survive a mid-air collision. (The poor souls in the other plane didn't.) I still have the (Knoxville, Tennessee) newspaper clippings he sent me,” recalls Bill.

Part of David’s early DJ days was spent at Jacksonville, Florida’s WAPE 690, where he was the overnight guy. “The morning guy, Jack McCoy,” said Bill, “was Program Director for me, David, and Shotgun Tom at the legendary KCBQ in its heyday. Jack brought David to San Diego with him from WAPE.”

WAPE’s survey picture of David “is how most of us remember him from his days at KCBQ,” Bill recalled. “Long black hair and a moustache.” Sigh … reading Bill’s tidbits about David, I mentally kicked myself for not interviewing him for a Blast from Your Past book, while I had the chance.

But this is my favorite behind-the-microphone story of Bill and David – well, sort of behind the mic …

“Then there were the many times when I was the morning guy at KCBQ/San Diego and David was weekends,” wrote Bill. “I'd put on ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (Led Zeppelin, 1971) as the last song on my morning show at about quarter to nine.” 

For those of you whose 39 and Holding memories have lapsed – or poor baby, you’re too young to know – the long version of that song is a mind-wandering eight minutes plus, which kept Bill’s listeners occupied while he fudged the last few minutes of his show …

“I'd run out into the KCBQ parking lot,” said Bill. “David would be there with the car’s motor running, and we'd catch the next flight to LAX and cab it over to Hollywood Park to play that day’s horse races. We hid our racing forms so the LAX cab drivers couldn't see; it was a short ten-minute hop to the track, as opposed to someone wanting a LONG L.A. ride somewhere. If we lost all our money at the track that day, we'd actually hitchhike back through Inglewood, one of the worst sections of Los Angeles. Back in 1973, we paid $9.00 each way for a round trip ticket SAN / LAX.

“And he told me things that I don't believe he ever told anyone else. Like he was an undercover DEA agent! And proved it to me many times. Maybe those stories should be left out.” Not a chance, Bill!*

An obituary for David has not been posted, however …

David Leonard, author of Aircheck: the Story of Top 40 Radio in San Diego, found a tribute page to make comments, like this one from Stephen Kitts, “His name to most was David some even called him Dave, but to me he was ‘Crazy Dave.’ He was full of laughter and worked at the skating rink (Stephen once owned in Tennessee) for very close to nothing just so he could give back to the kids and the community.”

The best tribute to David though, is his Facebook page – I was fortunate enough to be considered a “Friend.” Traveling was in his blood and he loved posting photos of his favorite places in China, tropical beaches, and of his adored wife. David was quite the character – the world needs more characters like him.

I will finish this memorial to David Cockrell / David Laurence / David “Da Snake” London with especially poignant thoughts that apply to all of us, from his close friend and fellow DJ, Bill Gardner, and Stephen Kitts

“Anyway, best of all,” said Bill, “he was a very kind guy with a tremendously big heart, who almost always placed others first. His Christmas card to us last year was my wife's favorite of all we received. It played the Charlie Brown Christmas ballad when you opened it. It wasn't one that came in a box of 25.”

And from Stephen, “In our busy lives, running, trying to keep up with the rest of the world, try not to forget the ones that are close to you. … David will be sorely missed.” [And is, still.]

Cheers to your Memories,

*   I asked for Bill Gardner’s consent before publishing his delightful stories. And many thanks to him and David's other friends, for sharing.

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