Monday, November 23, 2009

“Ole Discount Jack Here”

That’s the way Jack Garner always began his radio commercials. He was “comin’ at ya with the new album by (artist) on (label). It’s hot. It’s rock and roll. And it’s at Discount Records NOW.” He invariably bought 60-second commercials and he’d pack as much music into them as possible so potential consumers could get a good idea of what he wanted them to buy. His spots always ended with “Discount Records, a better way to get music to the people.”

Sometimes he brought Trader Jim (Ledbetter) or Carroll Dee (Bland) with him to record, but the basic structure of his messages never varied. Unlike a lot of clients who cut their own commercials, Jack had a very clear concept of what he wanted to accomplish. And I think you could measure the vinyl he sold in tons.

I met him in the summer of 1972, after I left KAAY for the first time. He was an early and consistent supporter of KLAZ 98.5—the station that would have been KAAY-FM if the construction permit had not been allowed to lapse. He showed up one day with a handful of albums and his script written on a legal pad and all I could think was, “Oh, great. Here’s another client that’s going to take half a day in the studio because he doesn’t know what he wants.” Wrong! Underneath that hippie exterior lived a businessman who was always the sharpest knife in the drawer. (Small but telling detail: his mention of the record label in his spots earned him what’s called co-op money, meaning the label would help him pay the cost of his ad schedule.)

He was over six feet tall with bushy, curly hair and a beard that made him look like the missing member of Jethro Tull. His favorite wardrobe items were faded overalls and high-topped shoes—the kind my grandfather wore when he was plowing the fields. There was a gleam and a glitter in his eyes and he loved to laugh. You could talk to him for thirty seconds and tell you were in the presence of a great intelligence.

He had spent some years pretty high up in the food chain at Mattel, figuring out ways to make the mothers of little girls buy ever-increasing amounts of Barbie stuff. He was rather well off when “I just couldn’t take the hypocrisy any longer, so I blew it off. And I swore I was never going to wear a tie again!”

So he came from Up North and decided to settle in Little Rock to sell records. His business thrived for years (and radio benefited from it) until the chain stores squeezed out the Mom-And-Pop operations. (Try going to Walmart and asking for Steeleye Span or Daddy Cool. Jack kept them in stock, along with a thousand other esoteric delights.)

I’m pretty sure that he sold out for a good price when he saw the end coming. He was probably very comfortable for the rest of his life. Cancer took him out sometime in 2000, I believe. Pity, that. In all the years I knew him, I never saw him in a bad mood, never heard a negative word from him. I am blessed to have been given his KAAY Honorary Announcer certificate (thank you, Laura) from 1977.

How cool that he managed to live a good part of his life on his own terms. How many of us can say that? Rock on, Discount Jack—we’ll not see the likes of you again!

David B. Treadway
Doc Holiday VII

3 comments:

  1. Thanks Dave! Well done and said! Thanks for filling in the blanks. I never knew he was ex-Mattel! He was a true character and savvy business man. Rock on, dude - /DM/

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  2. I can remember the local TV ads he ran during SNL and the old Friday Night Videos on KARK channel 4 in the early-mid 1980's. "...NEW STYK!" for example. A bit over the top, but still memberable.

    A few years later, an old co-worker and I were discussing this during some watercooler talk.

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  3. Discount Jack was instrumental in my musical and social education between 1974-1980. I spent my teenage years in the pinball room in back of the store, and in the front of the store, learning from Jack about Little Feat, Shawn Phillips, Bonnie Raitt, Todd Rundgren, and a million other artists that I would have never know about otherwise.

    I remember too Discount Jack's spaced-out advertisements on late-night local TV, where the images of Jack and his compadre (whose name I don't remember) would be imposed on the latest arrivals.

    Those were glory days. Thanks Jack.

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