As I was inserting the picture, above, of Cerphe from the late ’70s, when he was already a D.C. legend, my father called. “I wanted to commiserate about your boy,” he said. I certainly wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to refer to Cerphe as my boy, but I know I’m not alone amongst many classic rock aficionados who grew up in these parts and consider Cerphe a big brother of sorts. You see, Cerphe (Don Cerphe Colwell) has been around, spinning music (vinyl, cassette and CDs and maybe an 8-track or two) for as long as dudes my age have been alive. To say we grew up with Cerphe is not only stating the obvious, but should imply the type of bond commuters and kids in their formative years form with DJs they love. Cerphe was one of a large and constantly rotating cast of characters (Adam Smasher and Young Dave Brown anyone?) that kept classic rock cool back in the day. Cerphe was the only constant presence, and that alone, in an industry where disc jockeys come and go like the one-hit wonders they promote, speaks volumes about how well regarded he has always been. I recall being in the car when DC/101 bragged that they had bagged him in the early ’80s, I remember serving him when I waited tables in college, and I remember hearing him break the news that Syd Barrett had died, on a hot July evening in 2006. It was therefore appropriate, and more than a little meaningful to me, when I wrote an appreciation for Rick Wright, and he posted it on his page at the 94.7 website (the link has already been disabled, which is a distressing commentary on how quickly “94.7 Fresh” wants to put the past behind them; for a sneak peak at the vapidity to come, go here).
I remember when it was big news for Cerphe to come over to DC/101 back in 1983. At that time 101 was the badass number on the dial, having housed Howard Stern is his early, often awkward years (see above), then launching The Greaseman into the stratosphere for a the rest of that decade. Of course WHFS, where Cerphe (and his colleague, The Weasel) first flew their freak flags, was the thinking man’s progressive station. But for the kids, DC/101 was where rock music was played by rock star DJs. Toward the end of the ’80s, when “classic rock” became a lucrative brand, Cerphe remained a fixture in this town, fondly recalling the older acts he saw in his younger years, and interviewing every legend who blew through town. (To get an idea of Cerphe’s unimpeachable street-cred, he was the first DJ in the DC area (possibly in all of America) credited with playing Springsteen in the early ’70s: his advocacy earned him a gold record of Born To Run, a special gift from The Boss.) Cerphe has been so reliable a presence, it’s difficult to imagine the radio without him. Indeed, many of us have yet another reason to never turn the radio on again (other people reading this will ask, “do people still listen to the radio?”). Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve been a loyal radio listener, despite my commute. But I’ve always been a Cerphe fan.
For a fuller examination of his career, there are a few good articles here and here and from today, here.
I have a feeling we’ve not heard the last from Cerphe. I hope we have him around, in whatever capacity possible, for many more years.