By Marie Fricker
When 5-year-old Jimmy Julian asked his father for his first record in 1955, his dad took him by the hand as they crossed Hancock Street in Quincy to Jason’s Luggage and Music Store and bought a 45 record of “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. And so began a love affair with spinning tunes that would span more than half a century for a young boy, who would later earn the title of Jimmy Jay, DJ of the Stars.
“I remember being glued to my transistor radio as a kid listening to the WMEX ‘Good Guys’ and all I ever wanted was to be one of them,” said Jimmy. “Well, I guess dreams really do come true.”
Recently celebrating two landmarks— his 50th anniversary as a radio disc jockey and his 70th birthday, Jimmy now hosts an oldies show that runs on WMEX (1510 AM) on Saturdays and Sundays. He also interviews rock and roll greats who helped shape the music industry on “REWIND,” his weekly radio show and podcast heard around the world.
“Most every artist I talk with on my show is a personal friend of mine,” said the lifelong South Shore resident, who began mingling with the stars at the age of 13 at the Surf in Nantasket. “The club was owned by Bill Spence, and I asked him if I could meet Roy Orbison who was performing at the teen dance there that night. I think he got a kick out of my spunk, so he brought me back stage to meet Roy and his musical director Bobby Goldsboro (later to have hits like “Honey”). I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”
After that, there were many more encounters with rock and roll artists through the years, as gig after gig at radio stations, concert venues, and awards shows brought a boy from Quincy in close contact with the local and global artists he loved. He met Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon at a high school dance, and has been friends with members of the Beach Boys for more than 50 years.
“My all-time idol was Bobby Vee, and when I met him at a concert at City Hall Plaza in Boston, we felt an immediate connection,” said Jimmy. “Bobby did so much for my career through the years. He got me involved with the Dick Clark American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Missouri, where I met Fabian, Bill Haley’s Comets, Brian Hyland and so many others.
Jimmy’s career as a DJ took off like a rocket even before he completed his coursework at the Career Academy School of Broadcasting, run by Red Sox radio announcer Curt Gowdy. His school was located on Boylston Street in the same building that housed WMEX studios—a precursor of things to come.
His first stint in radio began at WEIM in Fitchburg, and while working for a small station in Orange, he was sent to cover a 1969 music and rock festival known as Woodstock on a dairy farm in the Catskills Mountains. With mike in hand, 19-year-old DJ Jimmy Jay interviewed such stars as Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, the Who, Richie Havens, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. He cites the highlight of his career as meeting and becoming friends with Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead.
Returning to Boston in the early seventies, Jimmy went to work for WEZE and in the eighties joined the team at WILD, the only black, minority-owned radio station in the city. “That’s where I met the R&B singers like Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder, and even did the voiceover for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign ads,” he said. “I got immersed in a whole different genre of music.”
Interestingly, the stars of concert halls and recording studios and guests at Kennedy Compound events that he hosted were not the only “notables” that Jimmy encountered during his extensive career as a disc jockey. While hosting an oldie show at Boston Garden, a local disc jockey came back stage to meet him.
“The kid’s name was John Peters, and he invited me to come see him do his show at a club called Triple O’s on Broadway in South Boston,” said Jimmy. “I learned all about the new “disco craze” from this young guy. One night, I agreed to fill in for him at the club when he couldn’t make it there. I put on a wild show standing on tables and revving up the crowd as I always did, and the next thing I know the manager was shaking my hand and telling me I was his new DJ. I tried to refuse the job until John told me, ‘Hey man, you don’t get it. If the owner told you you’re the new DJ, then you’re the new DJ.’”
Jimmy had no idea that Triple O’s was owned by the infamous crime boss Whitey Bulger. “I saw people getting thrown out of the club and into dumpsters a lot of times, so I knew he was in with some tough guys, but I never got involved. I played pinball with Whitey at the club, but that was it. Things got pretty scary, though, when I wanted to leave and was told if I tried to quit, my family would be hurt. I’m grateful I got out unharmed and, more importantly, that my wife and son were okay.”
Things today are much calmer, but no less exciting, for the DJ of the stars, as he celebrates his Golden Anniversary in radio. He emcees weddings and parties on Boston Harbor for Mass Bay Lines and hosts annual rock and roll Concerts at Sea for Princess Cruises. He interviews old friends and artists like BJ Thomas, Archie Bell, Gary Puckett, and Brenda Lee, and is back at his beloved WMEX every weekend spinning tunes from the fifties through the eighties.
“I’m 70 years old, but I have no plans to retire, now or in the future,” said Jimmy. “All I ever wanted to be is one of the ‘Good Guys’ at WMEX, and that’s what I am.”
Jimmy Jay lives in Weymouth with his wife JoAnne, who is also a disc jockey. For news on upcoming guests on REWIND, visit www.rewindshow.com.