On this day in 1938, the late DJ, Wolfman Jack, was born Robert Weston “Bob” Smith in
Brooklyn, N.Y. In the ’60s, he became a fixture on rock radio with a raspy-voiced,
over-the-top style that earned him his nickname and devoted legions of listeners.
Wolfman Jack was attracted to radio as a child and his heroes were DJs such as Dr. Jive,
Jockey Jack, Professor Bob and Sugar Daddy. He became obsessed with legendary DJ
Alan Freed and would spend time outside New York City’s Paramount Theater to try to
meet him. Jack, a high school dropout, eventually became a gofer at the Paramount and
went on to hone his craft at WNJR-AM in New Jersey and at the National Academy of
Broadcasting in Virginia.
Jack began DJing as Daddy Jules at a Virginia radio station. He soon moved to
Shreveport, La., after the Ku Klux Klan — angered at his opening of a dance club —
burned a cross on his lawn. On Shreveport’s KCIJ-AM, Jack had a successful show
called Big Smith with the Records. He then developed his Wolfman persona — and its
trademark howl — and moved to a station in Mexico.
After switching to his second Mexican station, XERB-AM, Wolfman Jack began to attract
attention in 1965 throughout North America with his unique voice, name and personality
and his mix of rock and R&B. Soon such major daily newspapers and magazines as Life,
Time and Newsweek featured profiles on the mysterious, hugely popular DJ.
Wolfman Jack’s profile increased when he became host of the hit ’70s music show, “The
Midnight Special.” He became identified with the program and its theme song, “The
Midnight Special” (written by Huddie Ledbetter), which has been recorded by such
artists as Creedence Clearwater Revival (RealAudio
excerpt) over the years. Such performers as the Guess Who, Freddie King,
Todd Rundgren and Leon Russell wrote and sang songs about the Wolfman.
But what really made Wolfman Jack a cultural icon was his appearance as himself in the
1973 smash film, “American Graffiti,” which was based on teen life and rock ‘n’ roll in the
’50s. Jack also appeared frequently in movies and on TV in the ’70s and ’80s.
In the ’90s, the Wolfman often broadcasted live from Planet Hollywood. He also wrote his
autobiography, “Have Mercy! Confessions of the Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal” (Warner
On July 1, 1995, the Wolfman succumbed to a heart attack in Belvedere, North Carolina.
His only daughter, Joy, a singer and DJ, died at 36 in a car accident in the same town
Wolfman Jack will long be remembered as one of the most distinctive DJs in rock history.
His determination and style helped keep the spirit of early rock ‘n’ roll alive during a time
in the early ’70s when rock was beginning to splinter in many directions.
Other birthdays: Placido Domingo, 58; Richie Havens, 58; Edwin Starr, 57; Mac Davis,
57; Jimmy Ibbotson (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), 52; Billy Ocean, 49; and Wendy James
(Transvision Vamp), 33.