He gon' rate your record high
Clap for the Wolfman
You gon' dig him 'til the day you die
Wolfman Jack (born Robert Weston Smith; January 21, 1938 – July 1, 1995) was an American radio disc jockey. He was famous for his gravelly voice and his trademark "wolf howl".
A native New Yorker, he was interested in radio at a young age and was particularly a fan of Alan Freed (sometimes known as the Moondog). He worked for various radio stations in places like Virginia and Louisiana for years, playing a variety of genres and adopting various personas along the way. In the early part of The '60s, he perfected the Wolfman character and hatched a scheme to broadcast on XERF in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico (which, with its 250,000-watt AM signal, could be heard across North America at night). While he gained an audience, the station itself was caught in a tug-of-war between its owners, criminal gangs, and corrupt police officers, with several gun battles at the transmitter site. Fed up with this, he moved to XERB in Tijuana, another powerful "border blaster", and his mix of rowdy rock, raw rhythm and blues, and verbal antics made him famous, especially with the station's proximity to Hollywood.
The person behind Wolfman Jack was unseen by the public for many years until he made an appearance in George Lucas' American Graffiti in 1973. The reveal did not stop his career, as he was syndicated to oldies stations around the world and gained success as the announcer for NBC's late-night music show The Midnight Special. He would go on to do more than 80 television appearances as well a few movies, but sadly collapsed from a heart attack and died at the age of 57 in 1995.
His autobiography Have Mercy!: Confessions of the Original Rock 'n' Roll Animal was published in June 1995 (he'd just wrapped up a promotional tour for it when he died). The Guess Who had a hit song about him ("Clap for the Wolfman"), Todd Rundgren named a song on Something/Anything? after him, and Frank Zappa mentioned him in the liner notes to The Grand Wazoo.
- Ambiguously Brown: An odd variant: because of his gravelly voice, many listeners assumed that he was black. This is alluded to in American Graffiti.
- As Himself: Played himself in American Graffiti and More American Graffiti as well as a number of TV appearances.
- Celebrity Toons: Was the star of his own cartoon series, Wolf Rock TV, that aired in 1984. However, it was cut short at seven episodes.
- Cool Old Guy: How many people perceive him to be, and how he is often portrayed in non-radio media. He was actually in his twenties and thirties at the peak of his fame, but the voice he used on the radio meant that a lot of people got that impression, and since few people knew what he actually looked like, the image stuck.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Before he came up with the Wolfman persona, he worked as a Country Music DJ named Big Smith.
- Fake Radio Show Album:
- He provided DJ bits for the American Graffiti soundtrack interspersed among the songs like in the movie.
- Also the album Howlin' on the Air, which takes actual recordings from his XERB show and mixes them with full versions of the songs he announced to simulate a complete broadcast.
- In Memoriam: given this in the 2014 documentary Tenacity and Gratitude: The Frank Cotolo Story.
- Large Ham Radio: His signature was his wolf howl and gravelly voice. He even credited the voice for his success.
- Opening Narration: He recorded the intro to The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang.
- The Stoner: To the extent that when he worked at WNBC radio in New York they built him a specially-ventilated room where he could smoke. He gave it up later in life, though.
- Wolf Man: His radio persona (and hairstyle) invoked this. Though he also took inspiration from classic bluesman Howlin' Wolf.