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Hear Nashville R&B on the radio — courtesy of a DJ in Washington state

Giant Steps


Leave it to a Washington state DJ to broadcast this weekend what Nashvillians can't find on their own airwaves: nuggets from the city's treasure trove of R&B recordings.

Longtime DJ Jeff Hofman has been playing classic R&B/soul records and celebrating tthe music's legends and history for almost 20 years on radio station KSER-FM in Everett, Wash. His "Dusties" show (a term he discovered in Chicago music historian Robert Pruter's exhaustive volume The Blackwell Guide to Soul Recordings) airs Saturdays from 7-9 p.m. CST.

Hofman's show Saturday, Jan. 26 will put the spotlight on Music City — both its legendary acts, and the famed radio station WLAC-AM 1510 that broadcast black music around the nation late night for years. WLAC helped alert and educate thousands of listeners regarding the beauty and magic of soul, R&B and the blues.

While Hofman's program frequently includes selections from Nashville artists, he's devoting the entire two hours Saturday to our town. We spoke with Hofman earlier this week via email about the special and several other things.

From your perspective, what is different about Nashville's approach to soul/R&B vs. Detroit or LA, or for that matter Memphis?

To me, Nashville didn't appear to take the pop approach to soul/R&B such as Detroit or LA. Sure, there were acts such as The Avons and The Spidells that would have fit into the Detroit sound, but not too many others outside of the examples I just gave. Another thing Nashville had over Detroit and LA was that [Nashville musicians] were and probably still are the king of Country music, so some of their R&B songs had more of a country edge. A good example of that is Joe Simon. As far as Memphis is concerned, I don't notice as many differences except that maybe the sound of Nashville isn't as distinctive as Memphis. When you hear a recording that came from the Stax or Hi labels, you know it's the Memphis Sound.

Did you listen to WLAC growing up? If so, who was your favorite DJ?

Since I'm a lifelong resident of the Seattle area, I didn't get the opportunity to listen to WLAC and didn't hear the station until I was an adult. If I did have a favorite DJ, I'm sure it would have been one of the big three, who were John Richbourg aka "John R.," Bill "Hoss" Allen and Gene Nobles.

Who's your favorite Nashville soul/R&B artist?

Two artists come to mind, and they are Earl Gaines and Joe Simon when he was on the Sound Stage 7 label. Plus anything associated with Ted Jarrett, who in my opinion is Mr. Nashville Soul and R&B.

Who's the Nashville R&B/soul artist that you've enjoyed the most in live performance?

I've only had the opportunity to see two Nashville R&B/soul artists in live performance. The first was Johnny Jones at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2006, the year in which it was in Memphis. The second was Roscoe Robinson at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2008. As far as who I enjoyed the most, I'd say Roscoe Robinson by a nose.

I was fortunate enough to meet Johnny Jones, and naturally I asked him about Jimi Hendrix. The one thing I recall him saying about Hendrix was that he played blues better than anybody who was born west of the Mississippi, or something along those lines. The only other artists who had recordings on Nashville-based labels that I saw in live performance, but wouldn't call Nashville R&B/soul performers, were B.B. King, who recorded some of his first songs on the Bullet label, and J.J. Barnes, who had his first recording "Won't You Let Me Know" picked up on the Rich label.

When did you start doing monthly specials focusing on soul/R&B stations?

I started the monthly specials in January 2012 and plan to continue them throughout this coming year. However, the first show I did focusing on soul/R&B stations was in December 2007, and looking back in my playlist archives, I seem to remember doing at least four other specials between July 2008 and February 2009.

Where do you get the survey information?

With a few exceptions, all of the survey information has come from various Internet sites, most notably ARSA, which is the Airheads Radio Survey Archives. However, most of the first specials I did on soul/R&B stations came from a book called Soul Music: The Birth Of A Sound In Black America by Michael Haralambos.

Will you do other Tennessee shows on WDIA (Memphis) or WJBE (Knoxville)?

No plans this year of doing either station. As of now, I haven't found any surveys of WJBE, but I did find one from WDIA for the week of Sept. 28, 1966. I also found one from WLOK, another Memphis station, for the week of Dec. 28, 1967. Maybe in 2014 I'll feature one or both of those surveys. Barring any changes, cities I will feature in my monthly radio survey shows the remainder of the year will be Seattle, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Denver, and Cleveland.

When did you start buying records and doing radio as well?

I started buying records on a regular basis after I got out of high school, which was in 1984. At that time I didn't have a CD player since [CD's] were in their infancy, so I bought vinyl until about the early '90s. The records I first started purchasing were used rock records from the '60s and '70s, as well as reissues.

As far as doing radio shows, I started that in 1987, and at the time the station [KCBS in Bellevue] didn't have any CD players, and the control board had dial potentiometers aka "pots" rather than the standard slide ones all control boards have these days.

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