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Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008

Appreciating the Music

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Dewey Gill’s resonant voice has been familiar to WMSE listeners for decades. Unlike many DJs, he not only sounds as if he genuinely enjoys what he’s doing, but actually has interesting things to say about the music he spins. And for the most part the music does spin.

Every Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon, Gill employs a turntable to play music of the big-band era, largely 78s. On the second and fourth Fridays of the month, 6 to 9 p.m., Gill explores obscure music from the ’50s through the ’70s, including R&B and soul, surf and psychedelia, doo-wop and garage rock.

How far back do you go with WMSE?

I started when it was still WSOE in the basement of an old church. I wanted to do a show—not a big-band show! But they were looking for a program that would please the hierarchy of the School of Engineering. I had some 78s from my dad and said I’d do a big-band program. In the early ’80s I also did a rock show on Tuesdays and a blues show Saturday mornings. By the mid-’80s I settled into my Friday night thing.

Who is the audience for your Sunday show?

When I began, my listeners were mostly people of the big-band era. I learned a lot about the music from them and did my own research. I’m still learning and that makes it pleasurable! Nowadays I have many listeners who are between 35 and 50, and lately I’m getting their children, 18-year-olds who were accustomed to hearing the show while growing up.

Are any of the records you play in the WMSE library?

None of them are. I was always a record collector anyway and the big-band 78s have just been part of the growth of my collection. I have 40,000 to 50,000 78s and just as many 45s and LPs.

Where do you keep them?

Everything is in my basement. I catalog them by genre and then alphabetically and chronologically.

Tell me about your Friday show.

On the second Friday I pick up where the big bands left off—the R&B that was transitional into rock ’n’ roll and early, pre- Beatles rock. The other program focuses on British Invasion, psychedelia and the progressive movement of the late ’60s.

Do you like any contemporary music?

I prefer people who can master their instruments, but techno DJs are creative— it’s an art form in itself. Club music is accomplishing the same thing as big-band dance music of the ’30s. Rap is modern urban folk music, not too much different in some ways than the blues. I don’t put anything down, even if it’s not my cup of tea.

Are you still enjoying your shows after all these years?

I’m having as much fun, if not more fun, than ever. You can only do what I’m doing on a station like WMSE, where the listeners have an intelligent appreciation for music.

Photo by Don Rask

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