Gary James' Interview With The Host Of Shindig!

Jimmy O'Neill

In the mid 60's, ABC-TV aired one of the "hottest" shows on TV. It was called Shindig! What made Shindig! so popular was the variety of guests that appeared - everybody from the Beatles and Rolling Stones to the Righteous Brothers, Jackie Wilson and yes, even Louie Armstrong. Jimmy O'Neill was the host of Shindig! Through the magic of home video, Rhino has released the Best of the Shindig! performances.

We spoke with Jimmy O'Neill about the people he met, the stars he knew, and what it was like to host a TV show in the years of the British Invasion.

Q - Jimmy, I always thought that Shindig! should have been an hour show instead of a half hour show. The time went by so fast. Was that a part of the strategy - to keep people hungry for more, and not overexpose Rock 'n' Roll?

A - Well, I'll you the truth, we did that on purpose. Matter of fact, it was quite a debate with the network, over how long the show would be and how often it should be seen. You know, we started out as a 30-minute program on Wednesday evenings and due to the success of the show, the network wanted to capitalize on that and they stretched us to an hour. We were really reluctant to do it. We thought it would dilute the impact of the show. We wanted to leave everybody kind of panting for more. But anyway, the network got to win that argument, and so we stretched to an hour and sure enough ,every body did sense that the impact was diluted. So, the network's solution to that was to split us into two half-hour shows on Tuesday and Thursday. We did that for about six months, and finally went back to 30 minutes a week on Wednesday, which is the way we always wanted it.

Q - With MTV and all the other music video shows, is the market today over saturated?

A - You certainly can't deny the success of MTV, not to mention V-Hl and all the other formatted music television stations, which, according to my perception, are just following in radio's footsteps. I started in radio before I was on Shindig! or any other television show. So, I think that formatted television is obviously working these days as it has so many years for radio.

Q - Don't you wish you could step back into your Shindig! videos for just 24 hours? Then you'd really appreciated the times.

A - (laughs) I know. This is advice for your readers - anytime I feel that I am mismanaging my life or things aren't going the way they should, I just turn on the radio and listen to a few rap records and realize there are countries, not just people, that are having the same problem.

Q - In the '60s, Rock 'n' Roll seemed to be about good times, fun, and as corny as it might sound - love. Today's artists would appear to be stuck on life's darker side. Jimmy, what happened?

A - The most asked question that I received while I was actually hosting Shindig! was, you may recall the Vietnam War and the protest songs, and I was asked "what do you think of this anti-war music?" My response was, I don't think it belongs in Pop music or Rock music. I like to keep my politics out of music and keep it for, in my opinion, what it really should be for, and that's entertainment. I felt that way then, and I still feel that way today in the '90s. However, a lot of talented composers and performers like to take advantage of the opportunity they have to express their feelings about life and the world. I suppose, as long as somebody's willing to buy it, we can't deny them that privilege.

Q - How much of a say did you have in the actual look of the show and the booking of the guests on Shindig!? Was that all Jack Good?

A - Well, I'll tell you, I don't want to take anything away from Jack Good. It was his baby, one hundred percent. But obviously my experience as a successful disc jockey in Los Angeles and my friendship with Jack gave me considerable influence with him. As I continued to introduce him to one future star after another, I think my judgment gained credibility with him. So I did feel I was getting fair influence. But, the last word belonged to Jack Good, until of course the network executives got involved (laughs). Then we had to deal with all sorts of input from all sorts of vice-presidents' offices. Incidentally, it was that area which was ultimately responsible for the demise of the program.

Q - So, the people who were tampering with Shindig! were the ABC executives, not the censor.

A - Left to Jack Good's own devices, the show would've had a very rough, Rock 'n' Roll, rowdy look and feel to it, even more so than finally got on the air. The reason it took two years to sell Shindig! incidentally was because of the pilot, which starred Little Richard, was rough and rowdy, and you know, pretty heavy Rock for the early 1960's. I knew anybody who knew anybody that had any authority in network television, and the response was almost identical from every one of them. They'd all watch it, glued to the television monitor, and then at the end they would all go, "Wow, fantastic, but too much for American television. The midwest isn't ready for it." Somebody was always not ready for it. We were just horrified that they could have such a personal positive reaction to the show, and then make the judgment that the public wasn't ready for it. We didn't agree with them, and it took us two years to prove it.

Q - How did you get the Beatles to perform on Shindig!?

A - Because of the popularity of Shindig! in America and because of the reverence with which they held our British producer, Jack Good, who they grew up watching on the English televison program, they agreed to appear on Shindig! for scale, which was $350.00 a Beatle. They only had one condition, which we thought was quite reasonable. At the time we wanted them to appearon Shindig!, they really couldn't work a trip to America into their schedule. So they asked us to come to them, and we did. We flew to London and spent two days rehearsing and taping the episode which starred the Beatles, and I'll never forget it as long as I live. It was an amazing experience because it was really at the peak of Beatlemania when they appeared on the show.

Q - Couldn't Shindig! have lasted as long as American Bandstand?

A - No doubt in my mind. I always tell people the reason Shindig! ultimately began to slip in the ratings and ultimately was cancelled, was because the quality of the program slipped, because Jack Good resigned as producer over some of the difficulties I mentioned earlier. I knew that if Jack did quit, chances were the show would not survive. Sure enough, it took about six months, but I could see almost with the first episode without Jack, that we had begun to stray off the track.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.