Don Kirshner, rock promoter, producer, and host of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, passed away this week. He was 76.
Time Magazine once called him “The Man with the Golden Ear,” and the many bands that he helped included the Police, Billy Joel, Tony Orlando, Neil Diamond, Carol King, Prince, Ozzy Osbourne, The Eagles, and The Monkees. But I remember him as host of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.
Rock Concert was on ABC every other week late at night beginning in 1973 and ran through 1981, starting well before I had access to cable and before MTV. For much of that time, along with NBC’s Midnight Special during most of the same years, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert was one of the few places to see many great bands on television. Kirshner gave national TV exposure to bands like The Ramones and Bruce Springsteen before most people had heard of them. As someone who was still a kid listening to AM radio, I found my first exposure to many bands I later would grow to love on Don Kirshner’s show.
When Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert would come on, past my normal bedtime, through my sleepy eyes I saw this balding middle aged man with a monotone voice introducing various bands. He seemed so different from the bands he introduced that one wondered what he was doing on the show. I cannot help thinking of Kirshner without remembering Paul Shafer imitating him on Saturday Night Live. But, like John Hammond (discoverer of Dylan, Aretha Franklin and many others) and Ahmat Ertegan (founder and president of Atlantic Records), Kirshner was one of those people who were important to rock and roll who looked like he should be working in an accounting office. I doubt they would put someone as modest in demeanor and appearance as Kirshner on television today, but it is a tribute to his importance that he hosted and had the show named after him even then.
We rightfully focus on the art and the artists, and we cheer when bands like Wilco find a way to avoid getting handcuffed by record company suits. But it is worth thanking the many people who make it possible for us to enjoy the music. Don Kirshner was one of the few behind-the-scenes people we got to see because of his television show. Still, today most of the clips on YouTube from his show are edited to just show the music without Kirshner’s introduction. I understand, because the music is what is important. But it is worth taking a second to acknowledge the passing of someone who helped bring us such fun and great music who is now introducing many of the same bands in heaven. Thanks Mr. Kirshner.
Image via YouTube. Do you remember Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert? Leave a comment.