Robinson interviewed, befriended and introduced The Beatles, Elvis, Bill Haley, and Buddy Holly to the public
Legendary Canadian Rock’ n’ Roll broadcaster and DJ Red Robinson passed away on Saturday at 86 after a brief illness.
I first met Red in 2004 when I asked him to introduce a tribute band I was managing at the time – Rubber Soul – The Beatles Experience – which had been selected to perform on the opening night (Aug. 21) of Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) to commemorate both the 50th anniversary of the PNE and the 40th anniversary of the Beatles first Canadian concert at what was then the Empire Stadium. Empire Stadium was torn down during the eighties to make way for the PNE.
Why did I ask Red? Because he was no stranger to the Beatles. It was Red who introduced the Fab Four at their first Canadian concert on Aug. 22, 1964, held at the Empire. Not expecting a yes, I nonetheless reached out to him to see if he would be interested in introducing Rubber Soul for their performance. He loved the idea, telling me the show would give those who never saw the lads from Liverpool a second chance to witness The Beatles experience.
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“While lightning can’t really strike twice,” he told me, he felt confident that both he and Rubber Soul could capture what it really felt like during that famous 1964 concert. “I’ve heard (Rubber Soul’s) disc,” he said, referring to their CD Live at Festival Place. “I think it’s terrific.”
Red became a DJ at Vancouver’s CJOR radio while still attending high school. He got the job after pulling a phone prank pretending to be actor Jimmy Stewart who happened to be in town. That stunt led to a decades-long career with numerous accolades, including his induction into the Rock’ N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
Red is credited as the first DJ in Canada to spin rock’ n’ roll vinyl on the air on a regular basis. Many may remember Red as the young Vancouver DJ who interviewed, befriended and introduced, besides the Beatles, the likes of Elvis, Bill Haley, and Buddy Holly to the public.
But there was one last hoop we had to jump over before Red could introduce Rubber Soul. I don’t recall the situation exactly, but apparently, Red worked for one radio station but another station was the concert’s sponsor or had the rights. Nevertheless, Red was adamant that he would make it work – and he did. It was a night to remember.
In 2014, I interviewed Red for a podcast when he was commemorating the Beatles’ 50th at the PNE with another tribute band. We reminisced about that memorable day in 1964 when The Beatles shook Vancouver.
It was on that night that The Beatles’ first Canadian concert was cut short and a near riot almost erupted.
The concert was held on a makeshift stage at the north end of the football field. There were no seats on the grassy area, which Red, then 27 and Program Director and DJ at Vancouver CFUN Radio, described as “not really ideal” as fans and performers should be in close proximity to each other. However, the concept of using stadiums for concerts was new at the time, and he chalks the poor conditions up to the lack of experience with these venues.
(As a side note, the PNE was built in 1954 for The British Empire and Commonwealth Games. It was during those games that Roger Bannister and John Landy broke the four-minute mile.)
Over 20,000 fans paid between $3.25 and $5.50 for tickets to witness the Fab Four. Thousands more who couldn’t get tickets stood outside the stadium’s perimeter. As expected, the crowd was noisy and loud.
The fans were “mostly ‘Teeny Boppers,’” Red told me, adding that the college crowd hadn’t yet discovered the Beatles. “I felt sorry for The Beatles. They had those funny amps … and the speakers were in front of the band and they really couldn’t hear anything.”
Part way into the show, he said, “All hell broke loose.” “Things were getting out of hand and the kids were out of control.” (Larry Kane described the scene in his book A Ticket to Ride as “bloody lips and noses, bruises, welts, abrasions and contusions.”)
Red said that Vancouver’s Chief of Police and Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein ordered him to get up on stage and, in no uncertain terms, to interrupt The Beatles and tell the crowd to calm down or The Beatles would stop playing.
Red, who’d already been in the business for a very long time, took the whole thing in stride.
“I’ve experienced this (rowdiness) before. I had my car ripped to shreds during a Ritchie Valens concert,” he said.
Red was extremely reluctant to interrupt the performance, but he knew that if he didn’t the police would pull the boys off the stage. So he made an attempt.
John Lennon saw him getting up on stage and immediately shouted, “Get the F#$ off our stage; nobody interrupts The Beatles!”
“The noise and the screaming was so loud you had to shout to be heard,” Red said.
He went over to talk to Lennon, pointing to the side of the stage where Epstein and the Chief were standing. Epstein was frantic, waving his arms, giving him the high signs, yelling, “Leave him go! Let him talk!”
Lennon then realized what was happening and calmly told Red, in his Lennonesque way, “Oh okay – carry on, mate!”
Fearing for their safety, the Beatles only performed 11 songs and were then whisked directly off to the Vancouver Airport.
“It was an interesting evening and the show lasted only 27 minutes,” Red remembered.
Red, you will be missed. Rest in Peace.
Troy Media columnist Greg Gazin, also known as the Gadget Guy and Gadget Greg, is a syndicated veteran tech columnist, communication, leadership and technology speaker, facilitator, blogger, podcaster and author.
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