John Kelly's Washington
D.C. DJ's old TV show tapes make for a groovy project
If it weren't for the misunderstanding over the hippie chicks and the body paint, who knows what would have become of the videotapes that Barry Richards has been lugging around for nearly 40 years.
What happened was this: Barry, a Washington disc jockey of some renown, was relaxing with a friend and a couple of female fans at Channel 20, where he hosted a late-night rock music TV show. This must of been, oh, 1973 or so.
"We were body painting these girls," Barry said on the phone to me from Los Angeles, where he has lived since 1985. "We were just playing around with these girls, but it looked like we were . . . "
I'll stop you there, Barry. Let's just say it looked like Barry and his buddy were engaged in something more than artistic skin decoration. And when the station's owner, Milt Grant, happened to stumble upon the scene, he was furious.
"He said, 'The show's canceled! You're fired! And take these!' " Barry said.
And that is how Barry took possession of hours of "Turn On," the show he hosted on WDCA, tapes that might otherwise have been lost or trashed or bulk-erased. The tapes followed Barry for years -- from trunk to basement to garage -- as he did what DJs do: Get fired and move to another station.
And there they might have stayed if not for Eliot Brown. Eliot, 39, lives in New Jersey, works at a mastering studio, plays bass in a doom metal band called the Blood Farmers and has dedicated himself to resurrecting Barry's televisual output.
"The whole arc of his career, it's pretty fascinating," Eliot said of Barry.
For example, there's the way Barry got started: Running from police in Wheaton, he ducked into a little AM station called WDON. The owner, Don Dillard, hid him under the turntables until the coast was clear.
I like to think this is where Barry started his transformation from skinny kid from Southeast D.C. into golden-throated disc jockey, those tense moments huddled under the record players serving as the broadcast equivalent of a radioactive spider bite.
There's his pioneering role in progressive music: He persuaded the owner of a dinky radio station in Gaithersburg to let him play "heavy" tunes, becoming one of the first DJs in the country to spin the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Vanilla Fudge. The station was WHMC -- "a 500-watt flowerpot," Barry said.
There's his concert career: Barry brought big acts to places such as the Alexandria Roller Rink. He's the promoter who, if you believe the stories, got Led Zeppelin its first Washington area gig, at the Wheaton Youth Center.