By Otis Griffin
Phillips had a love for music, especially rhythm and blues, second to none.
Dewey Phillips was born in a small country town outside Adamsville, TN. in 1926, and after serving in the Army, he moved to Memphis to fulfill his dream in music. Dewey jumped around from job to job, as nothing could satisfy his thirst to be involved with blues musicians.
He toured the streets of Memphis trying to get a “break”, but there was no room for a white disc jockey playing rhythm and blues back in the ‘fifties’. But he persevered.
WDIA the celebrated powerful station at that time had disc jockeys B. B. King and Rufus Thomas spinning records. WDIA broadcast power ceased at sunset, slowing competition.
The other stations in Memphis, WMPS and WMC, were strictly hard-core Country, as were WHHM and KWAM in West Memphis. But Dewey had little interest in country music, loving the R & B sound.
About this time, Dewey was ‘hawking’ records for Grant’s Department Store. He knew all the favorites, and called them, “hot ones” with the artist’s names easily coming to him.
With WDIA leading the way, station WHBQ decided to get the nighttime audience, but without much success. The DJ’s were low profiled, smooth, and the selection of records didn’t seem to suit the audience. So, the show was about to fold.
This is when Phillips got his big chance. The first year, he was on for fifteen minutes, carrying on his unusual banter.
This expanded shortly to one and then three hours. The fitting name for his show was, “RED HOT and BLUE’, and he surely lived up to it.
Phillips was playing artists like Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Sister Rosette Thorpe to mention a few.
The music was good, but the audience was hooked on the machine-gun style verbalization of mispronouncing the sponsor’s names, and innocently butchering the English language. (Dewey had his own vocabulary).
Adverting sales and Phillips’ popularity soared, as no one, including Phillips, knew what he was going to say. He was broadcasting from the “mezzanine floor” at Hotel Chisca, and he would call it the “magazine floor”, hollering into the microphone with “day-gaw”, and singing along with records.
He couldn’t sing, but no one cared, as he was having a ball, and we loved it. He’d come out with, ‘if you can’t drink it, freeze it and eat it.” “Get yo’self a wheelbarrow load of monkeys, run ’em through the front door, and tell ’em Phillips sent ’che from RED, HOT and BLUE.” Folks would go in a business and tell ’em, “Phillips sent me.” A sign of the times.
Everyone knows Phillips was the first to play Elvis’ record and he’d play it six, eight, ten times straight, over and over.
This shot Dewey even higher up the ladder of popularity, because at this time he was the only one that would play Elvis.
‘That’s Alright, Mama’ was not country, pop, or rhythm and blues, and didn’t fall in a certain category so none of the other stations would touch it. But Dewey spun what listeners loved.
Dewey would scream into the microphone, “this is the hottest cotton picking record in the country, it’s a hit, ‘day-gaw’. Southern memories of the greatest DJ…Glory!