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Bob Mack


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WZUM DJ, Dance Impressario and Manager of Tommy James and the Shondells
Starting out as a record hop DJ Bob Mack built a music empire in Pittsburgh with a string of fourteen weekly teen dances across Western Pa, night clubs, a record store, record labels, concert promotion and a stint as a top rated DJ on WZUM-AM.  His dance and radio playlist of obscure R&B race records that he called "Mack's Monsters" along with the "moldy oldies" of Mad Mike Metrovich became known as the "Pittsburgh Sound". Bob Mack made music history as the first manager of Tommy James and the Shondels and launched their number one hit single Hanky Panky.

Record Collector Became Dance Impressario

Bob Mack was born as Robert McConnell. His interest in music began as a record collector. Eschewing the hit records of the day Mack collected cut out bins R&B dance records by unknown African American artists and some by white artists. During the early 1950s very few radio stations played records by African American R&B artists. Deemed “race music” those records were barred from the radio airwaves. But many of the songs were better than the hits being played on radio. Mack searched for great overlooked songs that he called “Mac’s monsters”. He purchased records from the cut out discount bins of records stores and the back rooms of record distributors and Juke box operators.

Having amassed a large collection of great dance tunes Bob Mack decided to turn his hobby into a money making enterprise.  He purchased a sound system and began to DJ small teen record hops in school gyms, social clubs, and fire halls around Pittsburgh.  His selection of songs won over the dancers.  Word spread and crowds packed his dances wanting to hear his great collection of “mystery music”.

Mack moved to up to a large dance venue when the popular radio DJ Barry Kaye left the Pittsburgh market.  In 1958 Mack took over the Friday night record hop held at the large Masonic Temple in Washington, Pa. The dancers loved his race records and packed the Temple every weekend.  Building on his success Mack started teen dances in the city of Pittsburgh, its suburbs, and the small towns of Western Pa.   He rented adult “supper clubs”, theaters and large banquet halls that had large sound systems and dance floor lighting.   His chain of weekly dances grew to 14 locations by the early 1960s reaching from Washington, Pa all the way north to Erie.  He employed a team of DJs to run dances at the White Elephant, Tarena, Blue Fox, Teenland, Teen Scene, Wildwood Lodge, Bethel Roller Rink, Lebanon Lodge, Sugar Shack, Teen Scene, the Blue Fox, Infinity and dances in Sharon, Meadville, and Erie. The dances drew capacity crowds drawing as many as 30,000 tri-state areas teens each week. 

Bob Mack booked national and local artists to appear on the circuit of his fourteen teen dances. He brought in Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Little Anthony, the Midnighters, the Isley Brothers, the Coasters, the Shirelles, Little Richard, the Drifters, the Five Satins and other acts.  He also booked the Del Vikings, the Marcels, the Skyliners and other Pittsburgh area acts.  

Tri State Record Shop

Seeing that his teen dancer like his records, Mack opened the Tri-State Record Store in downtown Pittsburgh on the corner of Liberty Avenue and Smithfield Street to sell his hard to find obscure records.  On opening day there was a line in the street to get into the store.  He hired Mike Metrovick to work at the store.  He had met Metrovick at record collection shows.  Mike was soon picking out records for Mack to play at his dances and became on of Mack's teen dance DJ.
 
Bob Mack's Wax Museum on WZUM

To increase promotion for his dances Mack took to the radio to promote his dances. In 1962 he made a demo tape of a radio show of obscure records in his home recording studio and submitted it to the new radio station WZUM-AM 1590. It was a tiny 1000 watt station founded in 1962 that aired R&B and Top 40 music from Crafton. Pa. Competing for R&B listeners against Porky Chedwick at WHOD/ WAMO the audience of WZUM was so small that it did not appear on the Arbitron radio ratings. Bob Mack pitched his concept of a show devoted obscure records to the station manager. He said the success of his 14 dance venues demonstrated that there was a huge potential audience for the good R&B music. Bob left his tape with Jimmy ‘Pol’ Psihoulis asking him to listen and said he could start tomorrow. Arriving at his home after his appointment Bob walked in to hear the phone ringing. Jimmy Pol called asking if Mack could report to work at 3 PM the next day.

Bob Mack’s Wax Museum show went on the air running at 3 PM every weekday afternoon. WZUM showed up in the Abrition ratings within three months. It became Pittsburgh’s top-rated AM radio program within six months. Mack put WZUM on the map playing overlooked tunes.  

Mach's show ran for two years until 1964.  Station management instructed Mack to add current Top 40 hits to his playlist.  He compiled for a while but became discontented with the expanded format.  He resigned from WZUM on March 14 1964 saying he wanted to focus on his dances and other new enterprised.  WZUM replaced him with Johnny Walker but the stations ratings fell.  WZUM hired Mack's former dance DJ "Mad Mike" Metrovich to bring back the oldies format.

Romac and Viscount Records

Bob Mack founded his own record label Romac Records in 1962.  He scored a regional hit with the release of Leroy and the Enchantments single "Lonely Heart" that was written by Johnny Jack   

In November 1962 an article in Billboard Magazine announced Joe Rock, manager of the Skyliners, and Bob Mack had become partners in the  new label Viscount Records headquarters in Pittsburgh’s Carlton House. Their first release was "Nothing But the Two Steps" by Little Lousie and the Lovers.  Viscount's biggest hit was the Skyliners single “Come Love" / "Tell Me” that was composed by Johnny Jack.  Released in December of 1962 both songs became regional hits with heavy airplay on Pittsburgh radio stations,. Rock reported to Billboard in February of 1963 that “Come Love” had sold 50,000 copies. It has since become a favorite of oldies record collectors   The Viscount label was short lived as Joe Rock pulled out in 1963.

White Elephant - Zodiac Club -Atlantis Productions

In 1960 Bob Mack purchased the Belvedere Club in Monroeville and renamed it the White Elephant.  He turned it into an under 21 club.  There he held dances three to five nights a week.  In the early 1960s he booked live acts such as the Chuck Berry, the Coasters. Smokey Robinson, the Drifters, Gary U.S. Bonds, Bo Diddley, and the Shirelles. In the rock era of the late 1960s he booked Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Styx, Lynyrd, Spirit, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Mach took on two partners and renamed the White Elephant the Zodiac in 1970. He booked national acts like Little Anthony and the Imperials on weekend and Pittsburgh area bands Freeport and Brain Child on week nights. Mack sold the Zodiak 1975.  It became an over 21 club called 2002.  Later in the 1990s it was renamed to Stage One.

Bob Mack founded Atlantis Productions to promote shows with Procol Harem (1971), and Emerson, Lake and Palrmer at the Stanley Theater and other venues..

Bob Mack and Tommy James

At his Tri State Record store Bob Mack bought a collection of used records from a Notre Dame student in 1966.  The collection included the forgotten song “Hanky Panky” recorded by “The Shondells” in 1964.  Liking the song Mack played it at his dances and the crowds went crazy.  Other Pittsburgh area dance DJs started playing the song.  In response to requests for the song WZUM, KDKA, KQV gave it heavy airplay. Record stores who were swamped with requests for the song called record distributor Nick Cenci of Fenway Distribution looking for copies.  The Snap Records label that had released the single had gone out of business. There were no copies to be had anywhere.  Seeing an opportunity Bob Mack and Nick Cenci pressed copies and distributed the record under the Red Fox label of Fenway Distributors.  Within ten days it sold 80,000 copies in Pittsburgh.  In May of 1966 “Hanky Panky” was the number 1 song in Pittsburgh. 

Nick Cenci tracked down the owner of Snap Records, Jack Douglas, in Niles, Michigan and called him saying “You have to bring Shondellst to Pittsburgh. " Hanky Panky is going to be number one hit here.”  But the Shondells had broken up two years earlier after some of the members joined the Army.  Jackson put Cenci in touch with the lead singer Tommy Jackson who convinced him to come to Pittsburgh.  After a gig in South Bend Jack Douglas and Tommy Jackson drove all night arriving in Pittsburgh early on a Saturday morning. Every radio station they turned on was playing "Hanky Panky".  They went straight to the Fenway Distributors office on Grant Street where the met Bob Mack and the Fenway staff.  They whisked Tommy off for radio and newspaper interviews and an appearance on Clark Race's TV show.  On Sunday Tommy rode back to Niles Michagan with Jack Douglas.

 The following weekend Tommy Jackson came back to Pittsburgh with a band that he quickly hired. On Saturday night Tommey Jackson and his pickup band performed for thousands of screaming fans at three of Bob Mack's dances at the Bethal Park Roller Rink, the White Elephant, and the Blue Fox. Bob Mack became Tommy Jackson's manager offering to help him get a national record deal and to put a band together.

On the third weekend Bob Mack and Tommy James flew to New York in search of a major label record contract and national distribution.  Listed as a regional breakout in the top three music trades Hanky Panky was a hot record.  Accompanied Bob Mack and a New York booking  agent Tommy made the rounds visiting 11 records.  All of the labels said they wanted to sign Tommy. The next day, Morris Levy, the owner of Roulette records and a mob boss in the Genovese crime family declared that Tommy James was his artist.  All of the other labels backed off.  On signing the contract he changed his stage name to Tommy James.   

Upon returning to Pittsburgh after the New York signing,  Bob Mack took Tommy to a bar to play a set with band that he wanted to hire as the Shondells.  Tommy played with the band but was not sold.  The band's guitar player took Tommy to the Thunderbird Lounge to hear another band called the Racontuers.  Tommy performed with the band and liked them. The Racontuers met with Tommy and Bob Mack the next day agreeing to go on the road as the Shondells.  Morris Levy told Tommy fly the band New York the next day to record an album.  Within three days of meeting Tommy James the Racontuers where in the studio recording the "Hanky Panky" album for Roulette. Bob Mack found another cut out bin song 'Say I Am" that became their second hit single. The album was completed in two weeks.

Hanky Panky was re-released on Roulette and became the number 1 song in the country.  The label of the single read "Bob Mack Presents "Hanky Panky".

Bob Mack made a business call on Morris Levy while the band was in the studio.  Levy picked Bob Mack up, slammed him against the wall and held him by the neck telling him you are messing with my artist.  He physically tossed Bob Mack out the door.  Levy then told Tommy James that he found him a new manager.  Tommy James didn’t see Bob Mack again until a appearance in Pittsburgh in 2009.


Romac Records - The Enchantments
Viscount Records - Skyliners' Comes Love

Bob Mack Presents Hanky Panky
Dance Flyer for Teen Land