Rockin' with Wolfman

The Many Faces of Wolfman Jack
January 21, 1938 ~ July 1, 1995

Have Mercy, Baby!” Some people are just larger-than-life. They exude personality and charisma in a way that makes many jealous and others swoon.

Frank Sinatra. Elvis. The Beatles. Sean Connery. Tom Cruise. (Oh, all right ...) Bruno Mars. (I know they’re all guys … but guys don’t generally “swoon” over charismatic celebs … like Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, or Katy Perry.)

January 21, 2013, celebrated 75 years since Wolfman's birth - though we can no longer enjoy him in person, no doubt he's still spinning the platters and offering up the chatter in Rock & Roll Heaven! Want a listen to the way it was? Check out the YouTube post of Wolfman's clips from American Graffiti, the movie that gave us the man behind the microphone.

The difference in our early infatuation with the Wolfman was the mystery and intrigue that surrounded him. He was an enigma on the radio – a man without a face. Was he black? Did he live in Mexico? Was he old, young, fat, bald?

For the longest time, few except his closest friends and colleagues knew. He wasn’t one for public appearances; and with his wife, Lou Elizabeth Lamb (WolfWoman), he was just Bob Smith.

“His radio tales begin in the mid-1950s with teen-aged ‘Bobby’ – as his family called him – discovering the rogue XERF radio station broadcasting from Mexico,”*1  I wrote in the first of my Blast from Your Past books.

Barely ten years later many of us heard the gravelly voiced radio DJ only late at night, when the airwaves were crisp and clean and our parents were asleep. It added to his surreptitious persona.

 By the time George Lucas’ pop-culture film, American Graffiti, tore down Wolfman Jack’s curtain to reveal the man, it didn’t matter what he looked like. We were a world in love.

Why? Because he said things we couldn’t. And he said them in such a way that it may have been salacious and more than a little naughty, but it sounded soooooo right.

We cruised the drag in our kelly green ’58 Chevys (well, I did anyway) and popped our bubble gum to the tune of the Four Seasons’ “Walk Like a Man.” Sock hops were cool and so were the chocolate milkshakes at Mel’s Drive In, where we strutted our stuff in “D.A.” (yup, that’s what the guys called them – short for duck’s ass – The Beatles’ moptop had another year or so before appearing on our boppin’ hair horizon) and beehive hair styles.

Wolfman Jack fit our mood of contrasts in that era. From the late 1960s through the 1970s especially, the US was a nation of turmoil and change (long before Obama hijacked the phrase), and we vacillated between makin’ love and makin’ war. Wolfman was our constant. We knew we could count on him to make us laugh, make us cry, and make us think.

But he was a man, with all his faults and fallacious ways. By his own admission in the raucous auto-biography, Have Mercy! Confessions of the Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, he drank too much, snorted too much, and the women … well … let’s just say he was a lucky man that Lou looked past all that to stay by his side for more than thirty years – and in 1995, die in her arms.

From rebellious teen to idolized DJ, Wolfman Jack couldn’t be anyone but himself. He tried a couple of times. Pretended to attend the upscale vocational school his dad and stepmom sent him to (he snuck off to be a go-fer at Newark’s WNJR); donned a tie now and again; and sometimes toed the line for studio execs. But Wolfman really just wanted to howl.

As he made his way over several years, radio stations, music genres, and miles, to reach the West, Bob Smith began to morph a little more each day. Until he finally arrived at the legendary XERF in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. Owwwooooo! One late night in 1963 Bob grabbed the mic and introduced Wolfman Jack to the world.

At twenty-five years old, “The Wolfman had busted out into the world. I knew, down to my toes, that from then on I would do whatever it was gonna take to keep the Wolfman running wild, for all time.”*2 Clap for the Wolfman!

Rock On!

(*1 from Blast from Your Past! Rock & Roll Radio DJs: the First Five Years 1954-1959 by LinDee Rochelle, dedicated to Wolfman Jack; *2: from Have Mercy, by Wolfman Jack.)