Let Me Put a Smile On Your Face!
The Alan Kaye Story
By Paul Heckmann, Executive Director Memories Incorporated
Edited by Mark Cheyne, Administrator 'Memories of Dallas'
Paul Heckmann: Hi Alan, Paul Heckmann here with Memories of Dallas.
Alan Kaye: Hey Paul!
Paul Heckmann: That's a familiar voice from back in the day. Let's get right to it, tell me where you’re from, where you grew up.
Alan Kaye: Yes, I was born and raised in Kokomo, Indiana, which is just about 60 miles north of the Indianapolis 500 Raceway.
It was really homogenous. Back then, there wasn’t a lot of crime, and people didn’t lock their doors, and everybody knew each other. You know, everybody’s neighbor knew your folks, and your folks knew their folks, and that kind of thing. It was a great place to grow up as a kid.
I went to school in Kokomo and right in the middle of my freshman year, my mom and her husband built a house out in Miami County, which is north of us. It was adjacent to what was then called Bunker Hill Air Force Base. It was a B-58 Hustler base, as part of the Strategic Air Command, so it was both fully operational and had high-level people. There were a ton of officers and pilots due to the type of plane.
And I went to Maconaquah High School, which was pretty much funded by the government, because of all the Air Force brats that went there.
Paul Heckmann: So, there’s all this military all around you. Were you intending to go into the military at some time?
Alan Kaye: Not really. I left high school early, and Kokomo at that time was a huge factory town. 150 or more factories, potteries, and springworks, and Continental Steel was here. Delco and Chrysler both had big plants all over the place. But I was under 18, so I couldn’t get a job. And my folks were planning on getting a divorce – my mom and the guy she’d married – and so I really wanted out. And I went down to a recruiter to join the Navy, because my real father had been in the Navy, and I passed all the tests and everything, but then they kept putting me on hold.
And I said, I want to get out of town. They said, well, we’ve got our quota, because everybody was trying to join the Air Force or Navy to get out of being drafted and going to the war.
Paul Heckmann: What year was this?
Alan Kaye: This was 1969.
So, I went to the Air Force, and they told me the same thing. And the Marine Corps recruiter was down the hallway, and I walked in. I had been trying to get out of town since August. And it was a Tuesday morning, and I said, I want to join, but the only condition is I want to go right away. He said, how soon do you want to go? And I said, as soon as possible. And he said, I’ll be right back. And he walked down the hallway, and got my paperwork from the Navy recruiter. And he said, I’ll pick you up at your house Thursday morning at 6:00. And off I went. I went from MCRD recruitment depot in San Diego, to Camp Middleton, California, and was put in a supply company. And they moved me to the AmTracs, and that’s where I stayed for quite a while.
I was basically taking care of supplies for the AmTrac battalion. And I put in orders for embassy duty in Japan, because a buddy of mine had got it and said it was great. You know, you wore dress blues, and it was, you know, this kush duty. And, so one day, the sergeant came in and he said, you got orders up at the company office. And I thought, great! And I went up there, and they said, FMF Westpac. You’re going to Vietnam. So, I went through all the training to go to Vietnam, got all the shots, went through all the stuff, and when it came time to ship out that day, everybody got on trucks and left except eight of us. And he said, you guys have less than 13 months left to do.
So he says you have a tour of duty that is longer than your time left, so you can either re-up and go to Vietnam, or you can separate and get out early. And I thinking 'Vietnam or separate and get out early'... I guess you know which direction I went.
After I got out of the Marines, wasn't sure exactly what to do. But I had always been able to do impressions, and make people laugh. My father and my mother were both great storytellers, and joke tellers at parties. And I had the knack, so I went out and got a job at the local radio station.
Paul Heckmann: There ya go!
Alan Kaye: So I was a disc jockey for a while and then working in bands, and when the band thing broke up, I called an agent. And I said, 'I’m looking for work, I got to pay my rent'.
He said, 'Well, I don’t have anything band-wise for you. But if you know any comedians, I need a comedian to open a show down in Indianapolis'. And he said, 'If you’ll turn me on to one of your friends that’s a comedian, I’ll give you the booking commission. That’ll help you out money-wise'.
And so, I hung out, but I called a few guys, and they weren’t available. And the phone rang, and it was him calling me back. He said, you used to do impressions and tell jokes when somebody broke a string or the band went on break. Why don’t you do it? It’s only two 15-minute shows, and you can do the same material, because we’re going to clear the house. And it’s opening for Albert King. Can you work a black audience? And I says, 'Absolutely!' And that's the somewhat true story of how I got into comedy.
I got married for the second time in the early ‘70s to a girl from Eaton, Ohio, which is right outside of Dayton. And I flourished pretty well in Dayton doing comedy. She got a job in Dallas at Mercantile Bank. So, we moved to Dallas, and I went around and didn’t tell anybody who I was, or what I did, I just kind of went to the clubs, and, you know, checked them out. There were no comedy clubs, but I went to Bowley and Wilson’s, and also to the Playboy Club, various places to check things out. And I got hired to do a show at the Playboy Club.
I can’t remember, but I think it was Ramsey Lewis, or somebody, like that, that I was opening for. But I only did it one time, and they never had me back. And I was kind of bummed out about that. Once I started appearing at Nick’s, I didn’t miss the Playboy Club at all.
When Joy Simmons opened the Comedy Corner, she wouldn’t book me, because she was booking all these LA acts with guys that had been on Carson, or this show or that. But Bowie and Dallas didn’t know who they were, so they weren’t drawing very big crowds, and she finally booked me. And she said, you’re going to have to be the middle act. So, I middled for Gary Shandling, and I middled for Kevin Nealon, and next thing you know, she hired me to headline. And I put more people in there than some of their LA comics. And started headlining there. Bill Engvall was the in-house MC back then.
And when I would play the Cleveland Comedy, comedian Bruce Baum and I became great friends, and he got me a lot of gigs in California and other states where I had no connections. And when I played Cleveland and Akron, they’d always say, who do you want to middle? And I’d say, Drew Carey. And they’d go, why do you want Drew Carey? And I said, he’s a funny guy! I don’t want somebody that’s lousy out there for 25 minutes, and then I've got to come up and start all over from scratch. I want Drew Carey.
And so, I worked with Drew Carey, and when I was in Indianapolis, I used to use George Lopez as an opener a lot. And look where those two guys are.
Paul Heckmann: (a wink and a nod) I think I've heard of them.
Alan Kaye: I think this gets us to about 1981. After I did that show, I said, I got to go around and hit some of these clubs up. And a friend of mine said, well, why not start at the top? You know, don’t go to these little small places. You’ve opened for Tony Orlando and Dawn, and you’ve done some things with Albert King. Go to the Palladium.
So, I went to the Palladium, and the guy was in there. And I said, I want to talk to somebody about booking, and he said, well, what band are you with? And I said, I’m representing a comic. And he said, oh, we don’t use comedians. And I said, well, you’d use this guy. I said, he cut his teeth doing breaks in rock clubs. And he said, well, you got any tape? And I said, yeah. And he said, well, come on in the showroom.
So, we went in there, and it was dark. And he brought the screen down, and I handed him the videotape, and he put it in. And he laughed all the way through, and he said, great, let’s go up to the office. We walked up to the office, and he goes, dang, you look a lot like that guy in the video, I had kind of a perm in my hair, and now I had short hair. And I grinned and cocked my head... And he smiles back and says, 'Well, good'. And my very first gig was with with Eaton-Page Productions to play the Palladium. And the first one was Bugs Henderson, and then Wet Willy.
After doing that for a bit, I had some gigs up in Indiana, so I flew back up to Indiana, and I did some gigs. And when I got back down to Texas the Palladium had closed.
And I thought, what am I going to do? And somebody said, well, they’re going to reopen it as an Agora Ballroom. So, I did the same thing with them. I just went in, and I said, look, I played here when it was the Palladium, and I’ve done this and that. And I showed them the tape. And Eddie Gattus, who was the manager, loved it, because using a comic, you don’t have to fork truck a drumkit down, and change all the gear, you know? It was a quick set change, so they could set up the band, and I could go up in front of the band with my props and do the show.
And Louie Messina and Stevie Hauser from Pace Concerts were in town. They promoted shows at the Agora, and they fell in love with me, and we became great friends. So, I started doing the Houston Agora, and they started booking me in Austin, and this place and that place. And the next thing you know, I was going like crazy. And then, one night, I was introduced to Angus Wynne, and he was more into the eclectic acts back then. So, he used me to open for acts like James Brown, Ray Charles, Phobe Snow, and Delbert McClinton, all sorts of kinds of acts.
Paul Heckmann: He had a knack for finding talent.
Alan Kaye: Yes he did, still does! And next thing you know, I was working. And one night, I got a call. And the guy said, I’m from Cardi’s, and he said, we need an opening act for Dave Edmunds and Rockpile. And I said, what date? And he gave me the date. And I said, well, I can’t do it because I’m opening for Jean Luc Ponty at the Agora. And he said, what time’s that show? And I said, it’s 7:00. And he goes, well, do that, and come down here and open for these guys at Cardi’s. So, I opened for Jean Luc Ponty and David Edmunds and Rockpile in the same night.
Paul Heckmann: So, I noticed on your page that you actually opened for quite a few other bands out there. Some big names and national bands, too.
Alan Kaye: in 1982, I got a call from Louie Messina at Pace Concerts, and he said, we’re doing six shows with Chicago. It’s their comeback tour, 1982.
And he said, the first two will be in New Orleans, and the second two will be in Houston, and then the last two will be at Fair Park. And you’ll be back home. So, we agreed on a price, and they flew me out. And I did two shows in New Orleans, and then we went to Houston. I did two shows there. And then we came to Dallas, and we did two shows. The first show, my wife and friends had come to the show, and they left. And I did the second show.
And when the second show was done, I was putting my props up, and I said to the road manager, I said, listen, if you ever need an opening act again, please, please, call me. Because I love this band. I grew up in Indiana listening to Chicago. And I said, it was neat meeting my heroes, and they all seem like great guys. And I said, I’d love to do some more shows. And he said, well, you got about two hours and 15 minutes. And I said, what do you mean? And he said, until we load up and get out of here. And I said, what do you mean? And he said, we want you to do the whole rest of the tour.
And I was dumbstruck, man. And I end up driving because I couldn’t pack the bag, and got my shit, and got back, but anyway I went on tour with them. So, at the end of ’82, they came over to me and said, you know, it was great, but we change our opening acts all the time. And usually, we don’t even use one act for a full year. And we used you for a full year, and we’ve got another act booked, I think it was either Brad Garrett or Big Country. And either way, I went back to trying to book comedy clubs, and gigs, and about seven days later at 11:00 at night I got a call. And they said, this is not working out. We’re letting them go and we’re hiring you back. There’s a plane ticket waiting for you at DFW, and you’ll do all of ’83.
So, I did all of ’83. And then in ’84, same thing. I don’t know if it was – I think it was Brad Garrett in ’84, and I got a call about six nights into their tour. And he said, look, we wanted to fire this guy after the second night, but we had an agreement with the agent in LA. And we just got out of the agreement, so you’re going to do all of ’84. He said they were at Chastain Park in Atlanta, where you got a standing ovation. They were throwing cups of beer at him. So, I got the gig again! So, I did ’82, ’83, ’84, and Peter Cetera said he was leaving the band, and he wasn’t even going to do ’85. And they said, look, you know, we’ve got Chicago 17. We’ve got four hit singles. We’re kicking ass. We’re going to continue the tour. Peter has agreed to stay until April of ’85. Will you do the same? And I said, absolutely.
So, I did all of ’85 with them. And then I did a few assorted dates in ’87 and ’89 with them, but they were just one-offs.
Paul Heckmann: That is wild! I'm a huge Chicago fan!
Alan Kaye: So it's 1987, I went back to doing standup comedy clubs, and I went to Dayton, Ohio, to do a club, and a guy that I’d done radio with in Kokomo, Indiana, had a morning show there. And he brought his boss. And they sat me down after the show, and said, look, we’re planning on firing Dave Gross's partner and replacing him. We’d like you to come off the road, and become his partner on the morning show here in Dayton. We’ve slipped to fifth or sixth in the ratings, and we need a kick-ass morning show. And we think, with all your impressions and all your comedy, you’d be great as Dave’s sidekick. And you guys already know each other.
And they made me an incredible offer. They paid for my move from Dallas up to Dayton. They got me a house for my family. My wife was expecting my second daughter, and they gave us Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance, and a 401(k). It was like a dream come true, and I could get paid for doing my comedy on the side on the weekends, because I was only on Monday through Friday.
And part of what sparked it was, after they found out I did comedy, they also found out that I did a lot of voices for Bo and Jim on KTXQ. I worked with their morning show forever. I did Elvis, and Mr. Nicholson’s Neighborhood, a spoof on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, only with Jack Nicholson. And I did a bunch of characters for them, so that helped me. So, I worked there from ’87 until ’90, and they breached my contract, and I had to sue them. And I won, and left radio. And came back to Indiana, and I was doing some comedy here and there.
And then I got a divorce in ’97. I was just devastated by the divorce, didn't do anything for a couple of years - I wanted off the road. And I didn’t think I’d ever do comedy or anything ever again. I just went to work for my cousin, who owned a restaurant. But I was the guy, and every time I’d go see a comic, or see a band, I’d think, God, I could do better than that. You know?
Paul Heckmann: You have a gift, ya have to share it.
Alan Kaye: Thanks, that's what I did. I left the restaurant, and went back to doing comedy, and the gigs were sparse. So, I called a friend of mine, who had been my bass player in the second band that I’d ever sung for, back in the ‘70s. He had worked for a performance magazine in Fort Worth, and he’d left there and started his own magazine in Nashville called, The Touring and Booking Guide. So, he knew a lot of people, and I said, find me a gig. And so, he was looking for a gig, and I went to a Halloween party dressed as Ozzy Osbourne.
And some people shot some video and pictures of it. And I sent it to him. And he goes, my God, your Ozzy Osbourne’s incredible! Why aren’t you in the tribute business? And I said, I know nothing, nothing of the tribute business. And he said, well, if I got you an audition, would you do it? And I said, sure! And he said, well, the biggest company that does tributes is Legends in Concert. They’ve been in Vegas forever, and they have locations in Myrtle Beach, and they have locations in Atlantic City, and duh-duh-duh.
So, I flew out, and I did Joe Cocker, and I did Ozzy Osbourne. And they loved the Ozzy, so they were going to hire me for four weeks. And then it almost ended up being a year as Ozzy. And when the Ozzy Osbourne reality show tanked, and Sharon’s talk show tanked, so did the calls for the Ozzy.
Well, I thought, who else can I do? So, I made friends with a guy who tributes Tom Jones, and he also produces shows. And we were sitting in his car, outside the theater, and I said, hey, I want you to listen to something. And, you know, it was cassettes back then. So, we put a cassette in, and he goes, oh, I know who this is. This is Joe Cocker. I said, well, just listen to it. So, he listened to it a little. I ran it up, and was playing snippets from songs. And he said, I got this album. I said, you don’t have this album, because that’s me singing. He said, oh, bullshit. And I said, it is. And he said, Alan Kaye, that’s phenomenal! You ought to do Joe Cocker.
Paul Heckmann: Amazing!
Alan Kaye: Yes it is! So I had a guy that portrayed Barry White teach me how to make a fake beard every day. I had to make a new one every day out of hair, and glue, and shit. And a wig. And I was doing the young Cocker in bellbottom jeans and a tie-dye shirt. And, so I said to my buddy, who tributed Tom Jones, I said, what do you think? And he said, well, the voice and your movements and everything are spot on. But, he said, you just look like a guy in a Halloween costume. You don’t look as good as Cocker as you did as Ozzy. Why don’t you get rid of the wig, and the beard, and just grow your own stubble? And cut your hair real short, and just do it that way.
And I fought him on it, because I think the beard and the wig were kind of a security blanket. And I really fought him. Finally, he said, just try it for me. Just try it for me. Come down next month to Cincinnati, and sit in on a show. And I did, and slayed the audience, and so I started doing Joe Cocker.
But again, the gigs weren’t often enough to keep me busy, so I was working at a pawn shop, and a jewelry store in the daytime. And pretty soon, the Cocker thing started taking off. And I said, well, I’m going to form my own band in Indianapolis to do Joe Cocker. And then I’ll do it with the Vegas guys when I get a chance.
So, I formed this Cocker band. Well, the thing about that is, there’s so many people in the band, it’s a lot of rooms. It’s a lot of paychecks. It’s a lot of travel expenses, a lot of airfare. And so, the only thing that could afford it was festivals, and big concerts, and casinos, and stuff. And I hadn’t done any comedy since, like, 2000, and I got a call from two guys, nationally known comedian Dave Dugan, and Jay Baker, who was a comedian, and also a member of Bob and Tom’s morning show for decades. And they said, we’re doing comedy, and we want you to come and do comedy with us. And I said, I haven’t done comedy in forever. And they said, yeah, but we love you, man. Come and do it. It’ll be fun.
And I knew Dugan, and I knew Jay, so I thought, well, this will be fun. So, I went and did it, and I had a blast. And so, we did some comedy shows together. And I came home one night, and I was looking through my old folders at old comedy material, and I thought, some of this stuff is dated, but some could be used.
So, I started looking through it, and I found a number for Angus Wynne. And I thought, man, I haven’t spoken to Angus in forever. So, I called the number, and the phone rang, and this guy said, hello? And I said, yes, this is Alan Kaye, calling from Indiana. And I said, I’d like to speak to Angus Wynne. And he says, oh, I think I can find that old guy somewhere around here. And then he started laughing, and I recognized it was Angus’s laugh.
Paul Heckmann: Yep, the laugh hasn't changed since his bal... wait, this is PG. The Angus laugh hasn't changed in years!
Alan Kaye: (laughs) And Angus said, it’s weird that you can call this number, because this is an old landline. He said, I haven’t had this number listed as my number on the internet or anywhere for decades. I just kept it as a landline, so if I’m on the phone myself, I can use this landline. And he said, I’m hardly ever in the room. It’s just a weird coincidence that you should call. What have you been up to?
So, I told him, I’ve been doing a little bit of comedy, but my main focus is my Joe Cocker tribute. Now, I had opened for Cocker several times back in the ‘80s, and I’d studied him real close. And I, you know, at least once a week I watched Cocker videos to watch his movements, and his mannerisms. And I listened to the radio interviews and stuff, so I could get his talking voice down, as well as his singing voice. And I always admired Joe so much, and loved him so much. And I said, I’m really pushing this Cocker thing.
And as history has it, Angus called me back, and I’m going to be doing my Joe Cocker tribute at the 50th anniversary of the Texas International Pop Festival.
Paul Heckmann: That’s incredible. I’m really excited to see you do that, my friend.
Alan Kaye: Oh, I’m loving it. I’m just sad that I’m only doing a half hour, because I figured, we normally do an hour show with a 10-minute encore. And I was planning on that, and when I found out I only had to do 30 minutes, I was kind of bummed out. But my band said, yeah, but that way we won’t do any filler or deep cuts. We’ll do nothing but the hits!
And that’s what the crowd wants to hear. They want to be nostalgic, and visit that. It’s historical for Lewisville. It’s historical for Dallas. So, we’ll be doing the big Cocker hits, and I’m just so excited to come back. I’m going to see Bo and Jim from the radio days. I’ll see Eddie Gattus from the Agora. I know a bunch of the Agora Ballroom bartenders and barbacks are coming. I’ll be able to see friends I haven’t seen since 1987, and I’m just as stoked as I can be.
Paul Heckmann: This has been a blast Alan. Quite amazing to hear your voice again after all these years.
BTW - I will be in Row GA2, Seat 47 rooting for you at the Pop Festival! See you there!
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