Cleveland DJ Recalls Chats with John Lennon, Brian Wilson

In the heyday of FM radio, Cleveland’s WMMS was among the most influential stations in the country, obtaining exclusive tracks from major bands like Fleetwood Mac and championing up-and-coming artists like Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie.

WMMS, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, also got interviews with some of the legendary performers in rock ‘n’ roll. In a new oral history of the station, co-authored by UCR contributor Matt Wardlaw and published in Cleveland Scene, former DJ and program director Denny Sanders recalls conversations with two such legends.

In 1974, John Lennon had just released his Walls and Bridges album, and was sitting for phone interviews with a select handful of stations across the U.S., WMMS among them. Sanders recalled the short notice he was given for such an auspicious chat.

“I got the call at home at about 9 or 10 in the morning from John [Gorman, the station manager],” Sanders remembered. “And he says, ‘Guess what! I’ve got John Lennon for an interview.’ I said, ‘Oh, when?’ He says, ‘Two o’clock.’ And I said, “Oh my God, what?’”

Sanders laughed at the memory. “Luckily,” he said, “since I followed the music, I didn’t have to do too much homework.” He recalled his conversation with Lennon being a positive one.

“I thought he might be edgy,” Sanders said, “because he [could] be edgy and if he [didn’t] like something, he [could] be nasty, but he was sweet as sugar. He was wonderful. … I think because I didn’t ask stupid questions and I knew my stuff, I think he appreciated a good solid interview and he was very nice about it.”

Sanders also got a surprise one afternoon, when setting up for a face-to-face on-air chat with Beach Boy Mike Love.

“I was on air live and the record company had scheduled Mike to come in,” he recalled. “He shows up and he says, ‘Oh, by the way, I brought a friend with me.’ In walks Brian Wilson.”

This was during a period in which Wilson was grappling with mental illness and had largely stayed out of the spotlight. “He was quite overweight and he was a little out of it,” Sanders remembered. “But I sat him down and we mic’ed him up and I thought, ‘Well, you don’t get Brian Wilson every day.’ So I just went into my memory banks and started asking, ‘How did “Good Vibrations” come about? How do you write? How does this work?’”

Sanders recalled one story in particular.

“I said, ‘Brian, there’s an urban legend around that you have a sandbox under the piano when you compose, so you can stick your toes in the sand and kind of feel the beach. Is that true or is that an urban legend?’”

Sanders laughed as he recalled Wilson’s response. “He said in a shaky voice, ‘Well, it was true, but I had to take it out, because the cats got into the box.’”

You can read the full oral history of WMMS here.

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