Cousin Brucie reflects on the biggest surprise of his career

Cousin Brucie

Cousin Brucie

As told to us by 60s on 6 host, Cousin Brucie

I am very private about my birthdays, so when I walked into the studio on Saturday, I was going to keep the celebration very private. Lauren Hornek, Adam Saltzman and our intern Colton Murray were going to have a little private dinner party while I was on the air – with Chinese food, our favorite, of course. Lauren baked cupcakes, and I figured that would be that. My only plans for acknowledging my birthday on-air was if listeners, who inevitably would figure out it’s my birthday, called and wished happy birthday.

Then, about 15 minutes into the show, Adam tells me I have a call from London, which is not that unusual since they’ll listen to us on the Internet. I said, ‘What? A call from London?’ and Adam said, ‘It’s a friend of yours.’

(Now, the way the night happened was that anytime someone called, I’d have to guess who it was by asking a few questions. No one would tell me.)

So the caller started singing and this beautiful voice came over my earphones. I said, ‘Who is this?’ She said, ‘Guess!’ I said, ‘Were you a child star and a very good friend of mine? Have we been on PBS television together?’

‘Yes,’ she said.

It was Petula Clark! So she started the whole thing off, and it was actually 1:15 am in London. That’s L.U.V. That’s love.

At this point, I still don’t know completely what’s going on. Then another one of my British cousins called. It was Peter Noone. Now I’m starting to think something is up. But then I thought, maybe they found out on the Internet or something?

Then we get a third caller five minutes later. And let me say, when something on radio is produced – beautifully done, smooth – it’s like a razor. I starting thinking this was getting too beautifully produced to be a coincidence. Somebody has to be behind this, it doesn’t just happen this way.

Then Gary Lewis (at first I thought it was my other friend Jerry Lewis) – whom I’ve interviewed several times and whose music I play all the time – called and wished me a happy birthday and sang a little bit.

By this time, I’ve figured it out. These guys set me up. I knew I was going to have myself quite an evening. I should’ve just brought my own birthday cake and candles because I wanted to keep it quiet, but it was too late.

After having those three stars on the air, the phones went crazy, and we started taking calls because I like to include the audience in everything I do. They are as important as the celebrities because they are the reason celebrities are able to exist (and they know it, too!). Emails started coming in and Facebook messages, and eventually this private party turned out to be a mass ball for everybody. It was wild!

Then, listen to this, I get a call from Johnny Rivers! I mean I don’t think a show has gone by where I didn’t play a Johnny Rivers song, and I’ve had him up here in the studio, too.

See, all these people who called in have a personal relationship with me, and that’s what’s so nice. I don’t just play someone’s records — the people behind them have something to do with my life.

Then I get a call from Darlene Love. And I’m in love with Darlene Love, pardon the pun. She starts singing, and I ask who it is. But there is only one voice in the world like hers. I mean when she sang happy birthday, it was like no one had ever sang happy birthday. And I guessed, ‘Darlene Love?!’ I was so excited.

Then Tony Orlando called, who is really one of my sweetest and nicest friends.

One of the highlights came when Al Jardine called with Brian Wilson and sang happy birthday. Now, come on. How often do you get The Beach Boys to sing happy birthday to you personally? That was pretty wild. The Beach Boys, of course, are right from the beginning of my career.

Then one of my Golden Boys, Bobby Rydell, called. He means an awful lot to me because his career and mine took off around the same time after Palisades Park.

What you have to realize is all of these people who were calling in were backstage or ready to go on stage somewhere because they’re all working. Every one of them is still working. I don’t get to see these people too often. They’re on the road so much, so hearing from them was a wonderful, fun thing.

Now one of my biggest surprises of the night was Paul Anka, who is probably my very first friend on-air. We met when he was about 15, and his uncle brought him from Canada up to my studio with a promo record on acetate that hadn’t been released yet. The record was Diana, and I loved it so much that I played it 15 times that night in honor of his birthday. We’ve been friends ever since.

Then I got a call from Mickey Dolenz, who I worked with at another station when he was the morning man and I was doing my early evening show.

Then, of course, someone I see all the time – Tommy James – called. No matter how often I see Tommy James, it’s always a mirage. He’s a spectacular guy.

And we can’t forget Kenny Vance. He is another one of my early boyhood friends. He was in this group called the Harbor Lites then helped form Jay and the Americans. Now he has his own group, Kenny Vance and the Planotones.

You see, a year ago he fell ill, and nobody had heard from him, so we’ve all been worried. I was on the air many times saying, ‘Kenny if you’re listening or if anyone knows where Kenny is please call me.’ Kenny sang at one of my anniversaries and has been on the show, and here he is on my birthday party, sounding strong and wonderful. I invited him to come up here soon, the audience will love that. His song, Looking for An Echo, everyone loves and holds in their heart. It’s a newer song, but it has that heart and soul of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

We also got calls from our cousins Chubby Checker, Gary U.S. Bonds, Little Anthony and Lou Christie. The phone just didn’t stop ringing.

By the time the night was over, I was exhausted. Then they told me that I had one last caller. It was one of my favorite ladies in the world — my roommate, my best friend, my wife, Jodie. She had been listening in, and when she got on-air it took about two minutes before she broke down and started crying, this had touched her so.

Now, I tried to be strong myself all through the night, but honestly I was very near to crying several times, and I’m not ashamed to say that. I mean big guys do cry, and I’m a big guy.

I kept thinking that I had to be strong for my team because if I break, they might break. But if I laugh, we’ll all start laughing. We are a real good team. I was so touched by this outpouring of love and such a beautifully produced program from Lauren, Adam, Steve Leeds and Lou Simon. They really put together an amazing night.

Now, this is the VERY FIRST TIME in my career that I’ve been surprised. No one has ever pulled one over on me in my showbiz life. (It’s happened a couple of times in my personal life but not in my showbiz life). I was just so amazed. How could they have pulled this off? How did I not find out? Jodie hadn’t known about it because they knew better than to tell her. But my team was straight faced and straight laced all week even though they knew weeks before that they were going to do this.

I’m truly amazed at the feelings of affection that all these people on the air and on my team had for me. I always knew it was there, but this was so real and so live. It made for a great radio show – one of the best I’ve done in a long time. Plus, the audience must’ve been freaking out because every few minutes a star came on the line. And we didn’t just talk about my birthday. I caught up with each of my friends to see what they’d been up to and other personal stuff.

Of all the highlights of my career, and there are many, this one was the most unusual, the most loving and the most shocking of them all. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never ever forget that night.

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