Jack Good, Who Put Rock ’n’ Roll on TV With ‘Shindig,’ Dies at 86
By RICHARD SANDOMIROCT. 6, 2017
Jack Good on the set with the Beatles. A former assistant called him “classically trained — and a complete maniac.” Courtesy of Ron Furmanek
Jack Good, who popularized rock ’n’ roll on British television in the 1950s, then followed the British invasion to the United States, where he produced “Shindig,” a prime-time series with a frantic pace, go-go dancers and guests like the Beatles, James Brown and the Rolling Stones, died on Sept. 24 in Oxfordshire, England. He was 86.
The cause was complications of a fall, his daughter Gabriella said.
Mr. Good was an unlikely rock evangelist. He was not a musician, a record executive or a disc jockey; rather, he was an adventurous Oxford-educated actor whose proper style provided counterpoint to rock ’n’ roll’s brashness.
Wearing a bowler hat and a three-piece suit and toting an umbrella, he appeared in a commercial for “Shindig” before its debut on ABC in 1964.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, quickly doffing his hat, “I’m a humble man named Jack Good and I’m also the producer of ‘Shindig.’ I thought it might amuse you to know” — he suddenly shouted and widened his eyes — “the Beatles are coming!”
David Mallet, who was hired at 19 to be Mr. Good’s assistant producer, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Good “was classically trained — and a complete maniac.” He recalled Mr. Good asking him, on his first day of work, to pin “I Dig Shindig” buttons on cardboard cutouts of one of ABC’s stars, Lawrence Welk, the maestro of “Champagne music,” outside the network’s studios in Los Angeles.
The premiere of “Shindig” ended a relatively short professional journey for Mr. Good that began in 1956 when he became transfixed by an audience’s response to the movie “Rock Around the Clock,” with Bill Haley and His Comets. In rock ’n’ roll’s energy and excitement, he recognized music’s future, especially as a fuel for adolescent rebellion.
“It’s easy to call rock ’n’ roll vulgar, but to adolescents it is a release,” he told The New York Times in 1965. “Rock ’n’ roll, if it is anything, is pure joy in sound.
“I willingly embrace vulgarity,” he continued. “I prefer vulgarity, that is, to the excessive refinement that has long stifled British society. Like St. Paul, I’m a convert, but my conversion was to rock ’n’ roll.”
A job as a trainee producer at the BBC led to his first experiment in transforming what he had seen onscreen into a live show. On “Six-Five Special,” which had its premiere in 1957 (it was named for its 6:05 p.m. start-time), he filled the studio floor with young fans bopping to the music. The formula worked: Millions watched. But he chafed at the BBC’s demands that he add sports and comedy segments.
Forced out by the network, Mr. Good resurfaced at its commercial rival, ITV, where he produced “Oh Boy!” with much greater freedom. Performers followed one another quickly, giving the show a breakneck pace. British rock stars like Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde and Billy Fury were said to have received their first national exposure there.
“The aim was hypnosis and excitement — blitzkrieg time!” Mr. Good said in “A Good Man … Is Hard to Find,” a 2005 documentary about his life made by Greg Wise. “Jumping up and down, the adrenaline, the wildness. Yes, the danger of it all!”
Nik Cohn, the British rock journalist, wrote that Mr. Good had an understanding of rock music’s importance that was rare at the time.
“Everyone else saw pop as a one-shot craze and rushed to cash in on it fast before sanity returned and everything returned to normal,” Mr. Cohn wrote in “Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock” (1969). “By contrast, Good realized it clearly as a major phenomenon. I suppose he was the first pop intellectual.”
Mr. Good was born in West London on Aug. 7, 1931. His father, Bob, sold pianos at Harrods, where his mother, Amy, was a secretary. After serving in the Royal Air Force, Mr. Good graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied philology and was president of the drama society.
“Six-Five Special,” “Oh Boy!” and two other music shows in Britain did not end Mr. Good’s dreams of acting. He left for the United States, hoping to succeed in Hollywood. But he landed only a few parts, including one in “Father Goose” (1964), with Cary Grant, and another in “Clambake” (1967), with Elvis Presley.
Jack Good, television producer best known for “Shindig,” in an undated photograph. Courtesy of Ron Furmanek
One day in 1962, soon after moving to the United States, while lazing around in his pajamas, he had an epiphany.
“I saw this so-called special done by a bloke, Dick Clark, and I’d already come to the conclusion that Dick Clark’s shows were hopeless and I could do better,” he said in the documentary. Mr. Clark was, at the time, the host of the long-running “American Bandstand.”
“I said to myself, like the prodigal son in the pigpen, that I’d go back to my father’s house” — referring to Mr. Haley, whom he saw as his muse — “and I devised a show, filmed it, taped it and sent it around to the networks,” he said.
That was the pilot for “Shindig,” which was picked up by ABC, but not until 1964.
“Shindig” was unlike “Bandstand” or “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It had a fast rhythm, like “Oh Boy!,” with rapid cutting and extreme close-ups. The dancers frugged, swam and twisted furiously. The house band featured Glen Campbell, Billy Preston and Leon Russell. And the guests — among them Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, the Righteous Brothers, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Bobby Sherman, the Isley Brothers, Sam Cooke and the Everly Brothers — covered a broad musical range.
The Beatles, taped in Britain, were guests on the show several months after Mr. Good produced a special with them there. The Stones appeared several times, once with the bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, one of their idols.
NBC countered with its own pop music show, “Hullabaloo,” which made its debut a few months after “Shindig.”
Donna Loren, a featured singer on “Shindig,” described Mr. Good as “the Norman Lear of rock ’n’ roll” for his insistence on booking African-American artists, against the objections of at least one executive at ABC. She said Mr. Good had resisted efforts by the network to limit the number of black performers on the pilot.
Mr. Mallet, his former assistant producer, agreed. “He was insulted by it,” he said in a telephone interview, “because at least 50 percent of his favorite people were people like Little Richard.”
Mr. Good said in the documentary that he told ABC that he would limit the number of black artists on the show if the network sent him a memo outlining its rules. (He also threatened to send it if he got it to Robert F. Kennedy, the attorney general.) He never got the memo.
He left “Shindig” after a year, exhausted by the demands of producing it but with something else in mind: a rock musical based on “Othello.” It became “Catch My Soul,” with William Marshall in the title role and Jerry Lee Lewis playing an unlikely Iago. When it played at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles, Martin Bernheimer of The Los Angeles Times wrote that it was “an utterly brilliant and utterly maddening experience.”
Mr. Good also wrote the screenplay for the 1974 movie version.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Good moved to New Mexico with his family and continued to produce television programming for a few more years. But he had already begun to alter his life dramatically — mostly in service to his Roman Catholic faith.
Inspired by Rubens’s “The Descent From the Cross,” he learned to paint. And, after his divorce from the former Margit Tischer, he built a chapel beside his home in Cordova, N.M., where he lived alone and painted religious murals and icons.
One mural shows a wild-eyed, fanged devil — his head in the shape of a television set — playing an electric guitar.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Good, who lived in Oxfordshire, is survived by another daughter, Andrea; a son, Alexander; 10 grandchildren; and a brother, Robert.
Mr. Good expressed regrets about the direction rock took in the post-“Shindig” years. He wrote in The Los Angeles Times in 1967 that the music had been “ironed into one vast, hairy, paisley-patterned uniformity.”
But Mr. Mallet said that his cheeky former boss remained dedicated to the era he helped to influence.
“His idea of heaven,” he said, “was Jerry Lee or Cliff Richard or Elvis giving it 100 percent.”