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Flash-back to Dick Clark 

Between the Lines

To most of America, the death last week of 82-year-old TV entertainer Dick Clark caused little more than a ripple.

For Warren Knight, leader of the ageless local band Flash Cadillac, it brought back many memories.

The younger set only saw Clark as the guy who resurfaced every Dec. 31 to host Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve on ABC. But his health and voice had deteriorated in recent years, to the point where he struggled even to say a few words.

To the 40-and-older crowd, though, Dick Clark has meant much more. In the decades before MTV and music videos, Clark and his American Bandstand show developed a huge influence from coast to coast. Every Saturday afternoon, millions of teens would watch to check out the latest dances, what everyone was wearing, how they did their hair — and, of course, the songs and acts behind it all.

For a group like Flash Cadillac, the chance to appear on American Bandstand — four times between 1972 and 1976 — wasn't just a quick, meaningless gig. It was a way to become better-known nationally.

"It really was a big deal," says Knight, who graduated from Widefield High School in 1966, three years before helping put together Flash Cadillac in Boulder. "That was the premier TV outlet for music for a lot of years."

The group had moved from Colorado to Los Angeles not long before its Bandstand debut. The TV program already had been around 20 years at that point, but Flash Cadillac became the first guests ever to appear on the show without any kind of record deal.

Clark didn't mind, and he ruled the roost. After the headliners finished a song or two, he'd step in for interviews that usually were low-key, helping promote their latest recordings or tours. In those days, they were fairly rare opportunities for the public to see the personal sides of the musicians they loved.

Watch the segments now, and you can tell Clark had a special feeling for Flash Cadillac. He got a kick out of trying to remember not just the members but their nicknames, such as Kris "Angelo" Moe, Linn "Spike" Phillips, Sam "Flash" McFadin, Dwight "Spider" Bement and "Butch" Knight.

"Dick knew that with Spike, he had to be ready for anything," Knight says. "The classic moment for us on Bandstand was the second one [in 1974]. Spike comes on in a leather jacket, and Dick walks up and asks, 'What was the highlight of your last tour?' Spike looks at him and says, 'I think her name was Connie ... from Illinois.'"

Another time, the band came on wearing basketball uniforms, as Knight recalls, "because we were the only people crazy enough to do something like that."

Their music made impressions, too, leading to the group playing in the movies American Graffiti (1973) and Apocalypse Now (1979), plus starring in an episode of TV's Happy Days in 1975.

Ironically, Flash Cadillac's final Bandstand appearance, on Oct. 30, 1976, marked a turning point. They performed one of their most recognizable songs, "Did You Boogie (With Your Baby in the Back Row of the Movie Show)," a collaboration with superstar deejay Wolfman Jack, and soon thereafter returned to Colorado. Back here, they pursued their mission that continues today, albeit with an almost totally different cast.

Knight, as the last original founder, and saxophonist Bement (who joined in 1973 after playing with Frank Zappa and later Gary Puckett and the Union Gap) are the only members who share those Bandstand memories. But video clips have survived, and were part of Flash's 40-year celebration in 2009, along with a congratulatory message from Clark himself.

Those clips likely will return for an encore in August, when Flash Cadillac is inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame (details coming soon). And if anybody ever writes the definitive book about Flash Cadillac, it'll have to include a segment on Dick Clark.

"He was really a good entertainer, and he knew how to talk to people," Knight says. "He wouldn't just talk to one or two of the guys, either. He was interested in the whole group. And it meant a lot that he would always remember us."

This many years later, Flash Cadillac still hasn't forgotten.

routon@csindy.com

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