This Renegade always rocked with the beat, rolled with the feeling

Alan Freed

SALEM — Salem resident Randy Strader met famed radio icon Alan Freed just once, but that meeting made quite an impression on the 16-year-old musician.

“I was in awe,” he said.

He was just starting out in a band called the Blue Angels with Al Catlos and Fred Naragon. Freed, who was in town to visit his parents, had already had fame coining the phrase “rock ‘n roll” and fell out of favor with the industry due to the payola scandal in the late 50’s.

The year was 1960 and Strader said “what I remember most about him, he was so downtrodden.”

According to Strader, some of the people in Salem back then didn’t want to be associated with Freed. Strader’s parents knew Freed’s parents and Freed came to the home of Catlos to see the band. He didn’t get to see them play, but imparted some words of wisdom.

Wendy Kaufman will be guest emcee for the Freed Fest.

He told them to just hang in there.

“Rock and roll music will always be here. The style may change, but it will always be here,” Freed told them, according to Strader.

The teen also asked about the phrase which Freed used to describe the type of music he had played on the radio.

Freed told him that people “rocked with the beat and rolled with the feeling.”

It wasn’t long after that when Strader’s new band, Randy and the Renegades, earned national recognition with “High Tension” and “4-Speed” and had Freed’s former manager Lou Platt, who was also from Salem, as manager.

Randy and the Renegades toured with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars in the 60’s, playing at state fairs, county fairs and clubs. He described the bus tour as “grueling” but the money was good and he earned some royalties from his songs.

Fast forward to now and what Freed said stands true — rock and roll remains. Plus, Freed himself long after his death came back into favor in the industry and in his hometown. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, headquartered in Cleveland where he made a name for himself, in the inaugural year 1986 and also in the Radio Hall of Fame in 1988. His Salem High School yearbook was on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum.

Freed Fest will take place for the second year in downtown Salem on Saturday, celebrating the Salem 1940 grad’s legacy and showcasing bands from the area, including Strader’s Tribute Band which includes his sons, Jeff and Brandon, and Abbey Road, the Beatles tribute band which includes Salem resident John Gilbert.

Gilbert is one of the original members of Abbey Road and plays the part of Paul to the letter. He never met Freed, but his dad saw Freed perform around Salem, playing party music on the piano.

“Dad always said he was very polite,” Gilbert said.

Abbey Road started in 1983 out of Youngstown to keep the memory of John Lennon and the Beatles alive. They wore the same type of costumes as the Fab Four and played with the same instruments and Vox amplifiers used by the Beatles. Gilbert said they wanted to be authentic, going to great lengths to get the equipment and even ordering their boots from Liverpool, England.

They became an instant success and have continued touring all over the world, at one time opening for Davy Jones of Monkees fame, Cheap Trick, The New Rascals, George Thorogood and the Destroyers and REO Speedwagon.

Abbey Road has played in Vegas, Atlantic City, all over the country and even Japan and other countries. Gilbert said Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia, introduced herself to the band at one of their shows. George Harrison’s sister, Louise, has been to their shows and even Peter Best, the original drummer, saw them perform.

Gilbert’s current bandmates include Scott Krezci as Lennon, David Byers as Ringo and Tom Work as Harrison.

Gilbert attended a Moondog music festival in Cleveland a few years ago which was a Freed celebration, but he said the Freed Fest in Salem needs to continue to grow.

“We have an opportunity here in our town,” he said.

The climate sure has changed for rock and roll. Strader recalled performing with the Renegades at the old Fourth Street School and having protestors outside holding signs in 1962 that said “Rock and Roll is the tool of the devil.”

Getting the chance to perform at Freed Fest means a lot to Strader — it’s like he’s reliving his whole life, from the time he met Freed to now.

He said he thinks “Freed would be very pleased that he’s been forgiven by the new generation.”

“I’m just so glad and proud that I knew him,” Strader said.