Sat 20 Mar 2010
His given name is Lawrence Travagliante, a mouthful for sure, and the kind of name that’d bust the bank if you were printing softball jerseys.
But millions of rock fans know him as Kid Leo, the greatest rock DJ of all time in the opinion of this half-deaf boomer. Kid Leo’s still doing his stuff 4-7 PM on Little Steven’s Underground Garage on satellite radio (channel 25 Sirius, channel 59 XM). “Little Steven” is Steve Van Zandt (AKA Miami Steve), legendary E. Street Band guitarist, Tony Soprano’s main man, Silvio Dante, and evil music pusher.If you’ve never heard Kid Leo, you’ve never heard rock radio as it was meant to be, before the days of heavy rotation vanilla corporate rock.
From 1974 to 1988, Kid Leo spit into the microphone at WMMS-FM (The Buzzard) in Cleveland. Back then, the format was called ‘Progressive Rock’, a fancy way to say album rock or whatever the hell vinyl the DJ wanted to play. From ’79 to ’87, WMMS was named Radio Station of The Year by readers of Rolling Stone (this is a bit of a cheat as legend has it the #1 vote was the response “Radio sucks”). Still, WMMS was a force and one of the main reasons the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame is located by Lake Erie. Kid Leo was one of the key drivers of WMMS. I was an avid listener, when the signal wafted into the outer reaches of northeastern Ohio.The Kid’s voice is gruff, like a Harley Davidson engine on a cold morning. He speaks in beat-influenced hipster slang patter, making the English language his bitch.
He’s the guy your parents warned you about when you were growing up, the one who had no job, smoked one Pall Mall to light another, smelled of stale whiskey, swore colorfully, had a stack of well-worn Penthouses, drove a muscle car way too fast and would happily buy you and your under-aged friends some PBR on the sly–providing there was a six or so in it for him.
He knew all the bands and all the songs, with an unrivaled record collection, and would craft a playlist that’d have you riding an emotional roller coaster– like you had a fist in your gut. At the end of his musical journey, he’d deliver you exhausted and begging for another ride ‘round the track.
Before the days of manufactured boy bands, ‘focus-grouped sounds’ and crossover media megastars, Kid Leo identified and gave air cover to interesting, compelling artists he thought were worth hearing–– Springsteen, Bowie, Patty Smith, Pretenders, Ramones, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Mink DeVille, Graham Parker and The Rumour, Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Waits, on and on and on. He nestled them in deep tracks of great bands and great songs from obscure bands you felt shamed for not knowing.
It was an audio stew that continually coaxed your fingers to dial the volume control knob louder and louder and louder still until blood trickled on your shoulders.
On Friday’s at 6PM, he officially ushered in the weekend for northeast Ohio by playing Springsteen’s Born to Run , and it was like the green flag had been dropped.
Kid Leo conjured musical magic that made beer taste better.
He ended each shift with his guttural signature, “It’s time for me to punch out and wash up” and that about said it all. Kid Leo worked in the rock and roll mill, manufacturing one hell of a good time. At the end of his shift, he was dirty and spent. And so were his listeners.
If you’ve never heard him, he’s worth the price of admission to satellite radio. Join Kid Leo during one of his work shifts, work up an honest sweat and see if you don’t agree he’s the best there is and quite possibly the best there ever was.