Special to The Record
As “World’s Oldest Living Teenager” Dick Clark did for what seemed like forever, the seemingly indestructible Red Robinson just keeps going.
He doesn’t act like a teenager but when Robinson reminisces about being a rock record-spinning DJ in the 1950s in Vancouver, you get the sense he remembers it like it was yesterday.
In an interview from Vancouver, the Fanny Bay native recalls “unbelievable activity” for good reason.
While still a high school student, Robinson launched a career that would lead to him being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
The first to bring rock and roll to Vancouver Island, he booked acts that included Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Knox and Conway Twitty in venues that included Fanny Bay and the Native Sons Hall in Courtenay.
“I was doing everything, going everywhere. I’d even rent planes and take rock and roll up to Prince George. It was fun. We knew we were doing something. It was an amazing, pivotal time in rock and roll.”
He was there when Elvis Presley performed in Vancouver and he was the MC when the Beatles came to Empire Stadium in 1964, being told by John Lennon to “get the (bleep) off our stage.”
Robinson will return to the Comox Valley to be present for performances Nov. 21 and 22 of Red Rock Diner, musical theatre that relives Red’s role in introducing 1950s rock and roll to the West Coast.
Awkward and shy at 14, he had blossomed enough three years later that he landed his first radio-announcing job at CJOR in Vancouver.
He displayed a passion for rock and roll and knowledge about the brash new sounds that left older radio people in the dust.
Inducted onto the Comox Valley Walk of Achievement in 2006, Robinson revisits the area periodically, most recently as the grand marshal of the 2015 Canada Day parade.
He vividly recalls living in the Mud Bay part of Fanny Bay, where his father Gordon worked at a shingle mill.
Moving with his family from Fanny Bay to Vancouver when he was “six or seven,” Robinson knew at an early age he wanted to be an entertainer.
“Don’t fight who you are,” he advises.
The legendary DJ is still on the air in his 70s, hosting a show called Red Rock Diner on Sundays at noon on CISL (650 AM).
The musical Red Rock Diner by playwright Dean Regan, which previously launched Michael Buble’s singing career, stars Jesse Martyn as Red. Five teens come of age while Robinson plays the biggest hits of the time.
The presentation by Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre Company in Courtenay after performances in a dozen other B.C. communities is set in Vancouver in 1957 by which time Robinson had been on the air for three years.
Reaction to Red’s activities was decidedly mixed.
“The kids we were playing to just loved it, went crazy and got excited,” he recalls. “The adults, of course, looked at it with disdain.
“The more the parents hated it, the more the kids liked it.”
Considering how sophisticated yet cynical our society has become, does Robinson miss the innocence of those early days of rock and roll?
“You can call it innocence; I just call it social contact. We’re losing it rapidly,” he responds.
“Our group grew up in the best of times, simple times. We didn’t look for the next magical machine or gimmick. Going to a movie was a big deal.
“Now that may sound corny and retrospective, but people got along with each other. You’d line up at the theatre and there’s all your friends from school. Just a good time.”
The Arts Club Theatre Company of Vancouver performs Red Rock Diner on Nov. 21 and 22 at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay as part of the Sid’s Blue Circle Series.
“The energy, these kids alone, is just unbelievable,” Robinson praises. “The feedback I get is, ‘love the music’ No. 1. No. 2, ‘I’ve never seen so much energy displayed in a musical.’”
He and his wife will attend a presentation in Cowichan and both shows at the Sid.
“We’ll just take those three or four days and visit some old haunts. The Sid is a special theatre. I really love the Sid.”
For tickets and details about the Courtenay shows, visit www.sidwilliamstheatere.com, phone 250-338-2430 or visit the Sid box office at 442 Cliffe Ave.