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In Memoriam: Lloyd Thaxton

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Lloyd Thaxton just passed away. He was 81. He was an extraordinary man and creative visionary. He was a dear friend.

For every teenager growing up in Los Angeles in the 60s, The Lloyd Thaxton Show was appointment television. Each afternoon from 5-6 Lloyd Thaxton hosted a live dance party show on KCOP, channel 13. If his budget was more than $4.95 a show I'd be shocked.

His set consisted of four panels (probably cardboard) with musical notes drawn on them. Kids from local high schools were invited to dance on a soundstage the size of an elevator. He won his time slot daily, trouncing the competing news broadcasts.

What made the show special was Lloyd Thaxton. Most shows like this were hosted by disc jockeys. They were content to just introduce the records and step aside while the kids did the Twist, Jerk, Fly, Popeye, Monkey, Frug, Mash Potato, Locomotion, and whatever other inane dance was the rage that minute. Lloyd was the first to realize "this was television", you had to do something visual. So he would find ways to comically present the songs, even with his paltry budget. This elf-looking redhead would lip sync, mime playing instruments, use finger puppets, don wigs, do duets with rubber masks, cut out the lips on an album cover and substitute his own - anything to make the songs fun. In many ways, Lloyd Thaxton was a local version of Ernie Kovacs, finding innovative new ways to use the new medium. For the most part he invented music videos. The only difference is music videos these days are all ambitious elaborate productions. Back then we were quite content to watch a guy sing into his hand.

Lloyd began syndicating his show and (with an inflated budget of $5.25) became a national sensation.

He also broke the color barrier. When he had James Brown as his guest a number of affiliates refused to air the segment. Lloyd promptly dropped them from his roster. Motown and R&B acts were guests frequently. Only then did other shows follow.

In later years Lloyd went behind the camera, producing such long running series as Fight Back with David Horowitz and segments for The Today Show.

There is a "Best of the Lloyd Thaxton Show" DVD. It's 90 minutes of inspired television. But it hasn't been released because they've yet to secure clearances from all the artists, many of whom owe their careers to Lloyd and the exposure his show gave them. The last several years Lloyd also kept a blog where he shared many memories and photos. You can find it here.

His signature sign off was "My name is Lloyd Thaxton" followed by the kids shouting "So what?!" But we knew better. Lloyd Thaxton was a big part of our lives. We thank him and will fondly remember him always. That's what.

You can read more from Ken at kenlevine.blogspot.com